After Japan capitulated and the world war was finally over, GI's all over
the world wanted one thing... to return to the USA.
To expedite the return of Army and Marine personnel from all the countless
Pacific atolls, the Navy initiated the "Magic Carpet" exercise. This
consisted of using Navy warships to transport the troops from the atolls
to mainland USA in addition to using regular troop transports.
As a result, the Salt Lake City was assigned to proceed to some forsaken
atoll to load army troops. As we approached the atoll the anti-submarine
net was opened to allow us to enter. Mooring practice in all atolls was
similar. The ship did not drop anchor but tied up to a buoy in the middle
of the atoll in deep water.
As the ship was maneuvering to bring her bow next to the buoy, landing
craft loaded with army troops followed astern in our wake. It was almost
a pitiful sight only slightly exceeded by their joy in seeing their
passage home in front of them.
Somehow the ship managed to accommodate approximately 500 troops and all
their gear and souvenirs on our already crowded ship. They and their gear
were stowed in gangways, between decks, etc. As luck would have it, as we
followed a great circle course on our return to Astoria, Washington for
Navy Day, a storm followed us eastward across the Pacific.
All went relatively well until we approached the coast of Washington State.
We were to proceed up the Columbia River and discharge our passengers at
dockside in Astoria. The Columbia is a wide might river with a strong
current that carries miles into the Pacific. A pilot was required on the
bridge to navigate the ship up the river.
I had just come off the 4 a.m. - 8 a.m. watch and was taking a shower when
the Columbia's force hit the ship broadside. Over the months one becomes
accustomed to the rolling and pitching of the particular ship and when that
rhythm is broken an alarm bell goes off in your head. Our ship rolled over
to port further than normal.....almost to the critical capsize angle and
did not immediately recover with a roll to starboard... it just seemed to
remain in a port list for an eternity.
By the time I had dressed and reached the weather deck the pilot had
corrected his error and the ship was on an even keel once more. But the
damage caused by our rapid heeling over was evident. The chairs in the
wardroom had all flown through the air and ended up against the port
The Army troops gear and souvenirs, all brought to the weather deck
preparatory to disembarking had gone over the side. Fortunately no
personnel Navy or Army had been lost.
To compound the error, the pilot took us up the Columbia at excess speed.
Our four screws created enough wake to destroy and wash away buildings on
the banks of the river. Everyone was relieved when we finally tied up at
a dock in Astoria.
Written by Robert J. Serazin, Lt. (jg)
Stories from Veterans
Robert Max Epperson
Newspaper Article from SLC Memoralibia
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