USS Block Island Association

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CVE 21 Memories        CVE 106 Memories         Other Memories

CVE 21 Memories

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Walter “Joe” Booi (CVE 21/106)

“I was in charge of the IC (Internal Communications) Room at the time we were torpedoed. We had three bunks set up high in there above the workbenches. A bunch of us Electricians (8 or 10) were standing around waiting for the coffee to get done. Seems like our coffeepot was called a Silex. In any event, it was a two-part unit where the water in the pot raised up into the upper unit when it got hot and mixed with the coffee grounds that were in the upper unit. We were B'S'ing when the first two torpedoes hit us. As far as I was concerned, it was only one explosion, but a lot of the guys claimed that later they heard two distinct explosions. One of the group (I think it was Ellingson) yelled out, What happened, did we run aground? I explained no, we weren't within a thousand miles of ground. Then GQ (General Quarters) started ringing and everybody but me ran to their battle stations. I was at mine. Meyer EM2c (you might remember him as he fixed watches) was at the after Gyro Room and I was talking to him about a problem he had with the Gyro as it was pressing back and forth 2-3 degrees. He couldn't do anything as it was locked and the key was up in the IC Room. While I'm talking to Meyer, Bair came down to keep me company (it was his GQ station also). He told me that he was crashed out in his bunk, which was in one of the rooms we had off the hanger deck. The explosion knocked him out of his bunk and there was a wide-open vertical split on the seaward bulkhead and he could look out and see the sea. I asked him if things were that bad what the Hell did he come down here for! Anyhow, he noticed that the coffee was ready and I can see him to this day pouring his cup of coffee when the third torpedo hit. It hit right close to the after Gyro and killed Meyer and two Machinist mates. We then lost all of our power in the IC Room. I have no idea how long we stayed there. Our sound powered lines were dead. I got a battle lantern and kept looking up and down the passage way figuring if I saw water, we were going to get out of there. I got pretty mixed up with the cord on the sound-powered phone line, but kept the phone on. Finally, somebody asked if there was anyone on the circuit. I answered and he said he picked up the discarded phone laying on the hanger deck and asked where we were when I told him he answered, What the Hell are you still doing down there; we've been abandoning ship for 20 minutes! I don't think I answered him as I was fighting to get out of the tangle I was in with the phone cord! As we were going by the hatch to the Emergency Diesel Room, I couldn't help but notice the diesel was still running and made me wonder if they had got word about abandoning ship. I opened the hatch and there was the Electrician (Kroner) and two Mechanics. I motioned at them to come, but all they did was stare up at me. Remember, the damn diesel was running. I went down the ladder and dragged Kroner into the soundproof booth and yelled at him to abandon ship. Let me tell you that all three of those sailors beat me up that ladder! I got up to the hanger deck and started over to the port side to my abandon ship station, but there was a pretty good-sized hole in the deck with some minor smoke rising from same. I ended up on the flight deck where they were abandoning ship from the starboard side. Someone decided things were going too slow and ordered us to start going over the side on the Port side. They had avoided the port side up to this time as all the torpedo holes were on the port side. In any event, I was on the port side and there was a rope coiled up there hanging onto the rail and I flung it over the side and there was a life raft right under the end of the rope. I started to go over the side when somebody grabbed me by the shoulder and suggested that it would be a good idea if I secured that end of the rope to the rail. I thought this was a great idea and tied it down and then slid down the rope right onto the life raft without getting my feet wet.” event, I was on the port side and there was a rope coiled up there hanging onto the rail and I flung it over the side and there was a life raft right under the end of the rope. I started to go over the side when somebody grabbed me by the shoulder and suggested that it would be a good idea if I secured that end of the rope to the rail. I thought this was a great idea and tied it down and then slid down the rope right onto the life raft without getting my feet wet.”
 

Bud Hellwig (CVE 21/106)

“It was late afternoon & I was on watch in the radio shack with Bill Connolly as my supervisor. My duty was copying the “Fox” schedule on radio NSS. The signal was good & copy easy and I was deep into a long routine message when all of a sudden we were violently shaken by a terrific explosion & that was followed seconds later by another huge explosion. Torpedoes had struck both forward and aft on the port side. General Quarters was sounded & I grabbed a life jacket and headed for my GQ station which was a 20mm gun mount forward side just aft of the bridge. Confusion & concern was everywhere but not panic. I had been on my GQ Station for only a couple of minutes when a third torpedo struck us amidships on the port side. The ship was taking a noted port list and soon we were advised to prepare to abandon ship. Preparations were made with knotted lines and life rafts and the order to abandon was given. I recall going over the catwalk just a bit forward of the bridge. Funny thing…when I went to go over the side to abandon ship, I found several sets of shoes all neatly lined up in pairs where departing shipmates had left them…so I added mine to the nice arrangement! Many lines were over the side & many sailors on them at the same time. We dropped off into water that had a thick, heavy coating of oil floating on it. Hard to make progress away from the stricken ship in the oil until someone yelled, “dig deep” because to do so put your efforts into water instead of oil and you could move out and eventually escape the oil cover. Only the wounded & those who thought they were wounded were in the life rafts, but men clung to the rafts all the way around them. We were an oily mess for certain! But all lent a hand to try to move the rafts away from the ship & toward the DE's who were standing by to pick up survivors. They sure looked to be a long ways away! It was noticed that our escorts were searching for the submarine that had attacked us & also noticed that one of the escorts had suffered a torpedo hit, too. At this time, looking back at the Block Island, we could see that she was listing more and more to port & that she was slowly sinking by the stern. When we neared the USS Ahrens , we could see that they had put cargo nets over the side & had their own men hanging onto the nets to assist survivors up & on board as they reached the side. At last we were able to make our way to the ship's side & anxious hands grabbed us as we reached up the nets. I recall being passed from man to man & thrown onto the deck. Being well lubricated, I slid across the deck & banged into a bulkhead several feet away. Bit of shock, but no pain & just darned happy to be saved. Soon I was led below decks to crews quarters & there, sailors were opening their lockers to supply everyone they could with dry clothing. A good toweling & rubdown and dry clothes felt wonderful but the oil coating was very much still on all of us! That coating would be a problem for many weeks after the sinking. Lines-like on elbow and knuckles would be ever so slow in releasing their darkness! Hair was a miserable mess too. I found my way up to the destroyer's radio shack & volunteered to help in any way I could. They were glad to have me and I took over one of the circuits for them. Awhile later, we were rocked by the shock wave of the sinking Block Island where some of the ordnance had apparently detonated when she sunk. I did not witness the final dive but several of my shipmates described it to me. A sad loss of a dear, old ship! I just spent the night in the radio shack and food was brought up by some of the off-duty radiomen. I was more comfortable than a lot of my mates who tried to find resting spots other places on board. Next morning found us in route to Casablanca. We spent several days there & were all issued Army blankets and Army wear. Nice to be clean & warm, even in strange gear! While there we heard that the Allies were landing in France. Some CVE ships that were carrying freight east were diverted down too Casablanca to help get us survivors home. I was billeted aboard the U.S.S. Mission Bay & she took us into New York City for some of the best liberty we enjoyed while in the Navy. Later, ended up down in Norfolk with new issue of sea bag and renew of supplies and after a briefing & some medical observation, we were granted 30-day survivors leave and all headed home!”
 


Otis Long (CVE 21/106)

“I remember it like it was yesterday. I was playing pinochle at the time. When two torpedoes hit us, one fore and one aft, we were knocked across the room by the force, and the alarm went off telling everyone to man their battle stations. As an aviation ordnanceman, I took my place on the flight deck at a 40-millimeter gun. “When I reached the flight deck, I saw the third torpedo coming through the water. We braced ourselves and held on to some heavy-duty ropes on the deck. As the ship began to relent to the three torpedoes, the men all began to put on their life preservers and make their way into the Atlantic Ocean as the ship doctor called for help. The doctor was trying to free a sailor's leg, which was pinned under flight deck metal that had rolled up onto him from the heat of the torpedo. I witnessed the doctor cutting his leg off. It was the only way to get him out. At 16 years old, that was a little jarring to see. I can still remember him screaming. The man died from loss of blood caused by the amputation. He was one of six who died when the ship sank. Only six men of 900 aboard died. After discovering the CO2 bottle would not function on my life preserver, I had no choice but to jump from the flight deck without the aid of a life preserver. Being a strong swimmer, I swam far from the ship. The water and the sailors' faces were black from the diesel oil spilling from the ship.” As the men swam from the ship, the ship's weapons were exploding below the surface. You could feel the tremendous explosions in the water and everyone was black. All you could see was the whites of their eyes, and it struck me, it was the diesel oil from the fuel tanks. Everyone was covered. I remember a set of those white eyes swimming toward me in the pitch-black ocean waters. It was my pinochle partner from New Orleans, Art Villerie. The New Orleanian held up his gambling hand dripping from the dark water. “Look at my hand. Look at how many aces I had!,” he said. “Villerie still had 10 aces in his hand. I remember laughing at the small moment of humor they found in that catastrophic time. About an hour into the water, I came upon another sailor who was gasping, trying to stay afloat and went under the surface. I managed to go under and pull him up and then towed him to a raft. A short while later, another sailor and I assisted a drowning sailor to a raft. There were others that helped each other through the ordeal. The group stayed in the water about three hours and since that time, have bonded closely for years since.”
 

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