In 1953, my dad had already been in Japan for several months. Now, it was time for my mom, brother and sister to make the journey. They boarded the USNS General Hugh Gaffey for the trip over the sea from Seattle to Japan. Following are bits of my mother’s letter diary she wrote.
June 10, 1953
Well, will start our daily diary on board ship.
June 9 – We were up at 5:00 A.M. at the Hostess House. Had our bed check at 6:00. Bags were picked up at 6:30. Then we went to breakfast at 7:00 A.M. Had 2 hrs to wait. At 9:10 we boarded buses to take us to the pier. Everything went according to schedule. At 10:15 we unloaded, rec’d our passports and went aboard.
After looking over our cabin & stowing away some of our packages we carried aboard, we went up on deck. Our cabin is on B deck which is 2 decks below. Have nice quarters. It was very interesting to watch people coming aboard as we were among the first to board. The band was playing. We took several pictures of the dock and band & people coming aboard.
We pulled away from the pier promptly at 11:00. Stayed on deck for awhile, then went below. We are on 2nd call for mess so our hrs are 8:00 A.M., 11:45 and 5:15.
In the afternoon we had to go to a meeting and also had a fire & boat drill. We don’t stay below too long at a time as I guess the depth and rocking of the ship makes you squeamish.
We went up on the sun deck and watched the sights. We are traveling the great circle route which is by way of Alaska. Our ship travels 29 knots & goes faster than you realize. At 7 o’clock I asked one of the Lt’s if we were out of the sound yet as we still saw land. He laughed & said what you see now is the Aleutian chain, stretching out from Alaska. The sun never set till 10 P.M. last nite & was beautiful. Also at 10 P.M. we saw the last touch of land. The children have curfew at 8:00 P.M. They have to be in bed by that hr. We will only be on the water 9 sailing days but due to the time change will actually be 10 according to the calendar. I heard someone talking & they said we would skip Sat, but will wait & see, you hear so many rumors you’d be dizzy if you believe them all.
June 10 – It is now 11:15 and will soon go to lunch. We were up at 6:30 and made ourselves presentable, at our breakfast or rather I did. Was raining this A.M. & real rough. Was like riding the elevator. The ship just pitches about. The Captain announced some of the decks closed due to rough weather. He expects to be out of this roughness in the next day or two. In the evening played canasta. We have coffee hr at 9:00 so drank coffee & ate angel food cake & then retired. The ships paper said we traveled 471 miles in the last 25 hrs.
June 11th – We sat our watches back one hr in the nite, and made it difficult to try to sleep. The sea is really rough today the ship just rocks from side to side & back & forth. We have run into considerable fog. Was talking to the Capt of the ship & he said this fog has put us back a day & they have changed course. He’s a very nice person & comes around & talks with everyone. We have slowed down to 15 knots & traveled 560 miles in the last 25 hrs. We have 2400 troops aboard too & I feel for those boys. They don’t have any privileges & have to stay either on the forward deck or aft. and have no protection. They are quartered on the same deck as we are but are in the center of the ship & very poor ventilation.
June 12th – We sat our watches back another hr in the nite, and are to set our watches back again tonite. We rec’d our declarations forms for customs at 8:30 this morning. It is quite a job to fill it out. Had another boat & fire drill this morning at 10:30. Tomorrow we pay our subsistence. It is much cheaper than we all thot. Is only 16.43 per person so will only come to little over $49.00. Here I was planning on $90.00. The trip across is cheaper than the trip from Ohio to Seattle.
June 13th – We ran into a storm in the late afternoon & tossed the ship. Our port holes were latched down & our room was like a dungeon. It is the Aleutian squall we are in.
June 14th – It’s Sunday & sure is rough. The bow of the ship comes up out of the water & slaps down. Still have our port holes latched down. It is stifling in the cabin. All decks are out of bounds as the waves are quite high & we toss about.
June 16th – It is Tuesday. We cross the international date line yesterday afternoon. So we missed Monday entirely. The sea has calmed so our port hole is open. Has warmed up & by grapevine we are 2½ days out of Yokohoma. Boy this is a long boat ride, even tho I haven’t got sick I’ve seen all the water I want to for awhile. It’s the monotony that gets me.
June 17 – Wed & just a few more days to go. The day passed very fast for me.
June 18 – Thurs & today & tomorrow before we get off this ship. We will drop anchor late tomorrow afternoon about 20 miles off shore & then Sat morning will dock. It is getting very hot. We ran into a squall last nite & they latched down the port holes & brother we roasted. I’m sitting here in my slip trying to cool off. Will write more tomorrow.
Fri June 19th. This is our final day sailing. Will drop anchor sometime this evening. Also we are to see land about eight tonite, sure will be good to see the good solid land (even tho its Japan it’s better than all this water). The steward was telling me it’s a sight to watch the husbands come storming up the gang plank. They are to come on by alphabetical order there’s no stopping them. I’m going on deck to watch them & take some pictures then will rush down to the cabin.
Sat – June 20. This is the great day. It seems nobody slept much in the nite. Saw land for the first in 9 days. We had stopped around midnight & was sitting outside the harbor.
At 8:30 had our money changed. Then back on deck. We couldn’t take pictures till we were 300 yds from the pier. We had a good spot along the rail. Finally we could see the sponsors & band in the distance. Seemed the ship would never get to the pier. I started taking pictures of the band just as we nosed into the pier. I spotted Gene right away. They were all standing on a high balcony. I started waving & finally he spotted us. He used the binoculars so he could see us close. He also was taking pictures as the ship was pulled alongside. Gene was smart & started downstairs. He got up to the gate so he could be one of the first on board. All the passengers on board had to go to their cabins so the sponsors could find you. He had a staff car & driver to take us to where we were going. Went thru customs. I’ll bring this diary to a close for this time.
(Photos: Mom, her roommate Ann and my sister on the deck of the USNS General Hugh Gaffey. Photographer: Jim Amore. Digital image scanned from original slide by Wendy Littrell; Scans of ship’s newspaper, originals in possession of Wendy Littrell; photo of Yokohama Harbor. Photographer: Jim Amore. Digital image scanned from original photo in possession of Wendy Littrell – address for private use.)