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ONE THEY DIDN'T GET

We were one of a group of American destroyers convoying a fleet of

inbound British merchant steamers.

The messenger handed a radio in to the bridge.

"We are being shelled," said the radio; latitude and longitude followed,

as did the name of the ship, _J. L. Luckenbach_. One of us knew her; an

American ship of 6,000 tons or so.

Another radio came: "Shell burst in engine-room. Engineer crippled."

S O S signals were no rare thing in those waters, but even so they were

never passed up as lacking interest; the skipper waited for action.

Pretty soon it came, a signal from the senior officer of our group. The

352--let us give that as the number of our ship--was to proceed at once

to the assistance of the _Luckenbach_.

The skipper's first act was to shake up the second watch-officer, who

also happened to be acting as chief engineer of the ship, and to pass

him the word to speed the ship up to twenty-five knots. We were steaming

at the head of the convoy column at eighteen knots at the time. The

first watch-officer, having finished his breakfast and a morning watch,

was just then taking a little nap on the port ward-room transom with his

clothes and sea-boots still on. The active messenger shook him up too.

The two officers made the deck together, one buttoning his blouse over a

heavy sweater, the other a sheepskin coat over his blouse.

Word was sent to the _Luckenbach_ that we were on the way. Within three

minutes the radio came back: "Our steam is cut off. How soon can you get
here?"

Up through the speaking-tube came a voice just then to say that we were

making twenty-five knots. At the same moment our executive officer, who

also happened to be the navigator, handed the skipper a slip of paper

with the course and distance to the _Luckenbach_, saying: "That was at

nine-fifteen."

It was then nine-seventeen. Down the tube to the engine-room went the

order to make what speed she could. Also the skipper said: "She ought to

be tearing off twenty-eight soon as she warms up. And she's how far now?

Eighty-two miles? Send this radio: 'Stick to it--will be with you within

three hours.'"

By this time all hands had an idea of what was doing and all began to

brighten up. Men off watch, supposed to be asleep in their cots below,

began to stroll up and have a look around decks. Some lingered near the

wireless door, and every time the messenger passed they sort of stuck

their ears up at him. He was a long-legged lad in rubber boots who took

the deck in big strides. His lips never opened, but his eyes talked. The

men turned from him with pleased expressions on their faces.

There was a little steel shelter built on to the chart house to port. It

was for the protection of the forward gun crew, who had to be ready for

action at any minute. Men standing by for action and not getting it

legitimately, try to get it in some other way. So they used to burn up

their spare energy in arguing. It did not matter what the argument was

about--the President, Roosevelt, the Kaiser, the world series--any

subject would do so long as it would grow into an argument. The rest of

the crew could hear them--threatening to bust each other's eyes out--clear

to the skid deck sometimes. But now all quiet here, and soon they were
edging out of their igloo and calling down to the fellows on the main

deck: "That right about a ship being shelled by a sub? Yes. Well!" They

went down to their shelter smiling at one another.

Ship's cooks, who rarely wander far from their cosey galley stoves,

began to show on deck; ward-room stewards came out on deck; a gang

black-painting a tank hatch--they all slipped over to the rail and,

leaning as far out as they could and not fall overboard, had long looks

ahead. And then they all turned to see what 352's smoke-stacks were

doing. There was great hope there.

The black smoke was getting blacker and heavier. They were sure feeding

the oil to her. The chief came up the engine-room ladder. An old petty

officer waylaid him. Doing well, was she, sir?--She was. Hem! About how

well, sir?--Damn' well. She was kicking out twenty-eight--twenty-eight

good--and picking up.

Twenty-eight and picking up? And the best she showed in her builders'

trial was twenty-nine-one! What d'y' know about her? Some little old

packet, hah?

It was a fine day, the one fine day of the trip, a rarely fine day for

this part of the northern ocean at this time of year. It was cloudy, but

it was calm. There was a long, easy swell on, but no sea to make her

dive or pitch. The swell, when she got going in good shape, set her to

swinging a little, but that did not hurt. A destroyer just naturally

likes to swing a little.

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