What I had worried about
I learned the biggest lesson of my life in March, 1945. I learned it under 276 feet of water off the coast of Indo-China. I was one of eighty-eight...
I learned the biggest lesson of my life in March, 1945. I learned it under 276 feet of water off the coast of Indo-China. I was one of eighty-eight men aboard the submarine Baya S.S. 318. We had discovered by radar that a small Japanese convoy was coming our way. As daybreak approached, we submerged to attack. I saw through the periscope a Japanese destroyer escort, a tanker, and a mine layer. We fired three torpedoes at the destroyer escort, but missed. Something went haywire in the mechanics of each torpedo. The destroyer, not knowing that she had been attacked, continued on.
We were getting ready to attack the last ship, the mine layer, when suddenly she turned and came directly at us. (A Japanese plane had spotted us under sixty feet of water and had radioed our position to the mine layer.) We went down to 150 feet, to avoid detection, and rigged for a depth charge. We put extra bolts on the hatches; and, in order to make our sub absolutely silent, we turned off the fans, the cooling system, and all electrical gear.
Three minutes later, all hell broke loose. Six depth charges exploded all around us and pushed us down to the ocean floor--a depth of 276 feet. We were terrified. To be attacked in less than a thousand feet of water is dangerous--less than five hundred is almost always fatal. And we were being attacked in a trifle more than half of five hundred feet of water--just about knee-deep, as far as safety was concerned.
For fifteen hours, the Japanese minelayer kept dropping depth charges. If a depth charge explodes within seventeen feet of a sub, the concussion will blow a hole in it. Scores of those depth charges exploded within fifty feet of us. We were ordered "to secure"--to lie quietly in our bunks and remain calm. I was so terrified I could hardly breathe. "This is death," I kept saying to myself over and over. "This is death!. . . . This is death!"
With the fans and cooling system turned off, the air inside the sub was over a hundred degrees; but I was so chilled with fear that I put on a sweater and a fur-lined jacket; and I still trembled with cold. My teeth chattered. I broke out in a cold, clammy sweat.
The attack continued for fifteen hours. Then ceased suddenly. Apparently the Japanese mine layer had exhausted its supply of depth charges, and steamed away. Those fifteen hours of attack seemed like fifteen million years. All my life passed before me in review. I remembered all the bad things I had done, all the little absurd things I had worried about. I had been a bank clerk before I joined the Navy. I had worried about the long hours, the poor pay, the poor prospects of advancement. I had worried because I couldn't own my own home, couldn't buy a new car, couldn't buy my wife nice clothes. How I had hated my old boss, who was always nagging and scolding! I remembered how I would come home at night sore and grouchy and quarrel with my wife over trifles. I had worried about a scar on my forehead--a nasty cut from an auto accident.
How big all those worries seemed years ago! But how absurd they seemed when depth charges were threatening to blow me to kingdom come. I promised myself then and there that if I ever saw the sun and the stars again, I would never, never worry again. Never! Never!! Never!!! I learned more about the art of living in those fifteen terrible hours in that submarine than I had learned by studying books for four years in Syracuse University.