Cold Bay Alaska June 1943
CBMU 510 was split up into 3 Detachments. I was in Detachment l. We left Dutch Harbor early in June headed for Cold Bay, it is located on the very tip of the Alaska Peninsula as it juts out to the Aleutian Islands. There were 60 of us in Detachment 1. Some went by plane some by Yippee (nickname for a Sea Going tugboat), and some by mine sweeper. Mine was on the Minesweeper. It went along at a very fast clip and pretty close to shore. All the islands that we passed had snow on top of the mountains that seemed to jut up right from the waters edge. It was a rough ride. The water was not too smooth and it took us over night to get to Cold Bay. When we went to sleep that night we had to tie ourselves in the bunks otherwise we would be thrown out of them during the night.
When we arrived at Cold Bay Late that afternoon we were taken to have something to eat and then to our Quonset Huts, find our Sea Bags and get a good night sleep. The next morning we all got a good look at Cold Bay, They named it right it was cold all the time and it was also the most barren, desolate place I have ever seen. Mostly flat, no trees and the only growth you could see was the Tundra (a low growing groundcover about a foot high) and off in the distance were the snow covered mountains.
We were all put to work maintaining the Naval base at Cold Bay. There were only 60 of us but all of the guys with ratings knew what they were doing and they had no problem doing their jobs. There was a Naval Airstrip at cold bay as well as some Army personal stationed there. The first job I was assigned to was down at the docks unloading ships that pulled in with supplies. I guess the best part of that job was that when the Russian ships would dock, they had women seamen aboard and we would have a hell of a time trying to figure out what they were trying to tell us. It was a cold wet job.
With a lot of fog and drizzle that never stopped, we were wet all the time. The only good part about that job was that after we were finished late in the afternoon we were taken to sick bay were we were giving an Exam by the Medical Officer and also A little shot of RUM to warm us up
After about a week working down at the docks one morning the Chief Petty Officer asked for volunteers to go on KP (work in the galley) for 30 days. I jumped at the opportunity, and instead of 30-day stint in the galley it ended out to be almost 3 Years.
The first days in the galley I was put on the pot and pan detail, and cleaning up. When they would serve the food we would all go on the line and serve the food up as the guys would come through. There were only about 200 hundred Naval Personal at Cold Bay, which made it a small galley and when you do not have too many guys to feed the food gets better. After about a week the Chief Petty officer asked me if I would like to work on the graveyard shift with the one of the bakers. Two of the Navy bakers were going home on a 30-day leave and he needed somebody to help out the remaining baker.
After dinner every night the KP’s would clean up the galley and the dinning room and about 8:00 the dinning area would be opened up to anyone who wanted to come by. The biggest thing was the radio, (no TV in those days). Everyone would hang around and listen how the war was going on, listen to the news from back home and listen to all the good music. Lots of card games, checkers and chess. All the cookies, pies and cake left over from that day with all the coffee you could drink were put on the chow line. At 10:00 PM everybody would leave and that is when the bakers would go to work. Our shift stated at that time and did not finish until 6:00AM the next morning.
I had never worked in food preparation so every thing was new to me. I started working with a baker named Frank who was with the 23rd CB’s. He was left behind with CBMU 510 until the 2 Navy bakers came back from their 30 day leave, then he would rejoin his unit.. Frank was quite a baker. I would start my shift cleaning up the dinning area and washing all the cups and dishes before helping frank.
Frank taught me quite a bit of the art of baking, making bread, cookies, pies and sweet rolls. We would be finishing at about 5:00 AM when the first cook would show up to start the breakfast and we would help him with it. If they were making hot cakes we would make the batter, if it were ham or bacon with eggs we would cut up the ham and bacon, French toast we would also prepare that. Like I said we were only feeding about 200 so the food was great.
The only thing that I can think of that was not to good were the powdered eggs, funny taste. We were lucky up in the Aleutians were would get frozen eggs in small crates and all you had to do was thaw them out and they were great. When ever eggs were served we could crack them into small individual dishes and the cooks would start cooking them up in small pans as the guys were coming through the chow line and they would be cooked to order, anyway they wanted they them.
There are 2 things that an enlisted man in the Aleutians could not get their hands on. One was a woman (it was said that here was a women behind every tree the only problem was there were no tree’s.), and the other was a drink of booze.
As I mentioned our shift would start at 10:00 PM and frank and I would be in the galley all by ourselves. One night about 11:00 PM there was a knock on the back door of the kitchen frank told me to go look and see who it was. I opened the door and it was two Navy Flight Officers. They asked if frank was there and I said yes and let them in. Frank and the two officers were very good friends.
One of the Navy Nurses birthdays was coming up in a few days and they asked Frank if he would bake a cake for them. Frank mentioned making a nice Italian Rum cake and if they could bring by a little rum to flavor the cake. They said sure and they would bring it by the next night. The next night the officers came by and they gave Frank a half of a pint of Myers Rum. They stayed a little while and then left. As soon as they were out the door frank went over and got a couple of coffee mugs and poured all the rum into the two of them and said “Lou, drink up!” I said “Frank if we drink all the rum what are you going to use for the cake?” With that he went to his locker in the bakery and came out with a little bottle of rum flavoring. We drank it up.
The officers came by a couple of days later to pick up the cake and thanked Frank for making it. I guess the Officers got what they were looking for, for sure Frank and I did. THAT IS WHAT YOU CALL SEABEE INGENUITY!
The 2 Navy bakers came back from their 30 day leaves and I had to say goodbye to Frank, he was a hell of a guy and a terrific baker. I learned a lot from him in just a few short weeks. One of the baker’s name was Gimble and was from Oakland Ca. That kind of made us neighbors. I was raised San Francisco. The other one was Peterson who came from Portland Oregon. I continued to work with the bakers on the night shift. Peterson loved to fish and so did I. He said “Lou you have never seen anything like the fishing here at Cold Bay”, and he was right.
Have you ever seen a picture that showed salmon running through shallow water with half their body out of the water? That is the way it was at Cold Bay. One minute there would be none and the next couple of minutes there would be hundreds of them. The first time we went fishing we got ourselves a Jeep from transportation and also some fishing poles. And off we went. When we finally got to stream that came off of Mt. Frosty we walked about half a mile until we came to this pool of slow running water. Pete threw his streamer spoon out into the water and wham a big salmon hit the lure. When you hook a fish this size you do not horse him in. If it wants to go up stream you go with and when he goes down stream you follow him, lucky there were no trees so that was not a problem,.
When the fish got tired Pete just backed up and I pulled him out of the water it was a beautiful fish but Pete thru him back, he said we were looking for a female so that we could use the roe for bait. On the next throw we landed a female and took the roe out and laid the fish on the bank and started to walk off. Pete said we were going to catch Dolly Varden trout and we would use the roe for the bait. I said why are we leaving the fish out on the bank and he answered to feed the bears. I thought he was kidding but at the end of the day we started back, I guess we had left about 3 or 4 salmon on the banks on the way up and as we went back we never found any of the Salmon we had left on the banks. We never saw the bears. Pete said if you do not bother them they will never bother you.
We went fishing about 2 days a week. A lot of the guys would go fishing and bring all the fish they caught to the galley and the cooks would cook all the trout and salmon every Friday.
During that summer at Cold Bay I had some great times and one of the things that I will never forget was the plane ride I had over the Islands. You remember the officers that we baked the rum cake for? One night one of them asked me if I would like to take a ride with him in a 2 seater. We arraigned a time when he would be taking up his plane on maintenance run. The plane he was flying was a dauntless dive-bomber. I am sure that you have seen that plane in all the WW2 movies were the guy in the back seat is ridding backward and there is a 50-caliber gun back there.
The day we went for the ride could not have been any better, not a cloud in the sky. We took off, circled over cold bay and headed west over the Islands and flew all the way out to Dutch Harbor. What a sight, I really enjoyed it. When we got back to cold bay the pilot asked me how I was feeling and said he had to do a couple of rolls and dives to check out the plane. Never thought anything about it the only problem is that when he dove and rolled everything for me what upside down and backward. That is one ride I will never forget.
Time went by, I made BKR3c and it was time to leave Cold Bay and say goodbye to all the good friends I had made. We left on November 23, 1943 and headed out the Aleutian Chain. We thought that we were going to get together with the rest of the guy’s from the 510 but that was not to be. First would be the wild ride then Adak and the Great Sitkin before we would join the 510 at Andrews Lagoon.