Gerald E. Doescher: My Service on the USS Pasco

By GERALD E. DOESCHER

As told to John Howsden

Gerald E. Doescher in May 1944

Gerald E. Doescher in May 1944

Pearl Harbor Attacked

Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 started out like any other day. We were still in the Depression’s grip and money was scarce, so I was just hanging out with a friend at his house. We were trying to figure out what to do when one of the adults stepped out onto the porch and said, “The Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor.” I was shocked. I had a vague idea where Pearl Harbor was, but no idea that the Japanese would attack us.

When I got home, Mom was crying. I was too young for the draft, but she was worrying about my two older brothers, Bill and Dick, who were in the Army National Guard.

Before the day was out, we knew we were at war and things would never be the same.

Gerald’s brothers, Bill and Dick

Gerald’s brothers, Bill and Dick

Childhood in Oregon

I was only four years old when the Depression hit. I was born shortly after my parents moved to Portland, Oregon. At age five I was in the fields picking berries with my family to help buy clothes for the coming winter. We worked on a farm owned by a Chinese family. We maintained the garden beds by thinning out the carrots and onions to within an inch of each other, earning a whopping 20 cents an hour.

I still have an undeveloped picture of a Chinese worker I took as a kid. It’s been over 80 years since I took the picture. I just never got around to having it developed.

My dad was a workaholic. He had a new car dealership and spent long hours working in the garage. He loved to tinker and make things. He invented a super-charger for the Super Six Hudson. His intense dedication to work meant he didn’t get home until very late. Mom, on the other hand, was a controlling person. She wanted Dad home at a decent hour like all the other dads. I am sure this conflict contributed to their divorce.
With Mom divorced and having three kids to feed, we ended up on welfare. We didn’t get food stamps, but instead had an account at the nearby grocery store. When Mom got to the counter, the store owner, Mrs. Nixon, would carefully write down what we bought and subtract it from our state credit account. I don’t know what we would have done without this help.

I grew up on the edge of Portland, so we didn’t have to walk far before we were out in the woods where I could shoot my BB gun.

I wasn’t a troublemaker, but my BB gun and I did run afoul of the police one day. My two brothers and I were walking down the road after playing in the woods. As we entered the city limits, a police car with two officers pulled up next to us. Without getting out of the car, the cop in the passenger side pointed to my BB gun and said, “Give me that thing, kid. I want to take a look at it.”

It was a good gun that shot straight, but sometimes it would get an extra BB stuck in the barrel. The cop, turning the gun over in his hands, looked at me and asked, “Is it loaded?”

Thinking it wasn’t, I said, “No,”

Just as I said no, the cop pulled the trigger. The rifle fired a BB right into the heater core of the police car. Back then most cop cars were Model Ts and didn’t have heaters. But this car was a new 1931 Plymouth and probably the only car on the force with a heater. The cop’s mouth dropped open when he saw water gushing out onto the floorboard. He tossed the gun to me, looked at his partner, and said, “Let’s get out of here and get this thing fixed.” My brothers and I made a beeline for home.

War’s Early Impact

I was itching to get out of school and find a job. The war didn’t affect me while I was in school, but they did take the Japanese students out of our school. We felt sorry for them. We had grown up together and were friends. Suddenly they were gone.

It wasn’t long before they rounded up Japanese families in the neighborhood and put them in a stockyard, where they were guarded by soldiers. Around this time, I had gotten a job with Montgomery Ward driving a delivery truck. One time I delivered some cribs and bedding to the stockyard for the Japanese families. They were living in stalls no bigger than 100 square feet petitioned off with plywood. It was an awful thing to do to people that hadn’t done anything wrong.

I didn’t have to go into the service right away because I was only 17 when the war started. But my brothers, being in the Army National Guard, got activated immediately and were shipped to the South Pacific. They were assigned to the same infantry outfit and fought side by side throughout the war. They were in the thick of things as soon as they hit the beach on New Guinea. The first day they set up a tank with a machine gun on either side. Come morning, the Japanese attacked. They fought all day and when the battle was over, they counted 800 bodies lying in front of them. The unit didn’t lose a single soldier.

I asked them several years later how many of the enemy they captured, “We didn’t take prisoners,” they replied.

Enlisting

After high school, I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d be drafted. Living and fighting in a muddy foxhole didn’t appeal to me. I liked the idea of sleeping in clean sheets, eating hot food and sailing on the sea. I went down to the Coast Guard recruiting office in Portland with a friend. They put us through a physical and a background check. I never found out why, but my friend didn’t get accepted.

The day after signing up, I took a bus to Seattle, was sworn in, then got sent back home and waited for further notice. After a month I was called to active duty. I boarded a train in Portland with 40 other guys. Our car was outfitted with a bunch of bunks that we sat on all night as the train chugged down the west coast to Alameda. The next morning we pulled into Government Island, which is in the estuary between Oakland and Alameda, just in time for chow.

Gerald and boot camp buddy

Gerald and boot camp buddy

Boot Camp

Government Island was formed by a dredging project in 1913. It was 67 acres, flat as a pancake and accommodated 900 sailors. With the war in full swing; its sole purpose was turning recruits—the lowest form of life in the world—into seamen apprentice.

The barbers cut off our hair, the medics examined us and the supply sergeants issued us stuff like clothing, hammocks, and soap. We learned that double time meant run and a “fart sack” was the slip that covered your mattress. We practiced shooting rifles, tying knots and putting out fires. Being a lowly boot, we saluted everything that moved and polished what didn’t.

If we were not in a classroom, we were doing something outside. When I entered the Coast Guard, the military was still concerned that the Germans might use mustard gas, so we learned how to don gas masks. To make sure we were proficient at this, they put us in a room and set off a gas grenade. To give us an idea of how awful it was to breathe the gas, they had us take our masks off before leaving the room.

Back home I knew many old World War 1 vets who had trouble breathing because they had been exposed to mustard gas. While 1 was bent over coughing and crying, all I could think of was those old guys with their failing lungs.

We were issued two pairs of shoes in basic. I marched so much that I had to have one pair resoled before boot camp was over. Towards the end, we did the “last march up the mountain.” This was a 10-mile march that started at Government Island. With dummy rifles slung over our shoulders and canteens hanging from our web belts, we marched through East Oakland into the hills of luxurious Piedmont and on to Lake Temescal near Claremont Country Club.

Accompanied by a bugle and drum corps playing a lively march song, we walked a little taller and straighter when families came out of their houses and cheered us on.

Epic Explosion

After getting out of basic, I got my first leave. I was at my mom’s house in Oakland one night at about 10 pm when a huge explosion shook the windows. It was miles away, but we could tell something terrible had happened. It was reported in the newspaper the next day that a cargo ship being loaded with ammunition at Port Chicago Naval Magazine in Port Chicago blew up. It started a chain reaction with other ammunition ships.

We were 45 miles away, but people said it could be heard 200 miles away. The explosion killed 320 people. It was so bad that only 51 of the 320 dead could be indentified. Many more were injured. Two large ships tied to the dock completely disappeared along with 1,200 feet of wooden pier. The explosion was so big that the crew of an Army Air Force plane flying at 9,000 feet saw pieces of white hot metal as large as a house fly straight up past them.

Beach Patrol

After boot camp I was supposed to be sent to a special school. I had done very well on the Navy aptitude test, having only missed a couple of questions in two days of testing. Instead I was assigned beach patrol at Pacific Grove near Monterey. Japanese subs were lurking offshore and it was suspected they were dropping off soldiers to reconnoiter the area.

We patrolled in pairs. My partner had a war dog, which he got to keep after he was discharged. We were armed with .38 caliber pistols, but we never saw any infiltrators.

When I was assigned beach duty, there was a story going around about a Japanese soldier that had been captured while hiding in a barn on a farm near Fresno. He had been left there alone, without food or water, to guard a cache of ammunition. After several days, he was starving, dehydrated and scared senseless. If this story was true, getting captured was probably one of the better things that had happened to him.

Shakedown Cruise

After a few months doing beach patrol, I was finally sent to sea to fight the Japanese. On July 26, 1944 I went up to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay and stepped onto the deck of the U.S.S. Pasco. The Pasco was a Tacoma Class Patrol Frigate built by Kaiser Cargo Inc. in Richmond. It was 304 feet long and 38 feet wide, with a top speed of 20 knots. It was armed with 3” .50 caliber dual-purpose gun mounts, two twin 40mm mounts, nine 20mm mounts, depth charges and hedgehogs, all of which would soon come in handy. I was now a seamen apprentice first class in the Coast Guard and part of a 190-man crew headed for war.

Being newly assigned to the ship, I reported to sick bay to be cleared by the ship’s doctor. When I handed my file to the doctor, he looked at it, looked at me and then back at the file. He smiled and said, “I know you. I did your physical in Portland when you enlisted.” It was good to see a familiar face, and we visited for a few minutes.

Ultimately our ship would be assigned to the Alaskan Sea Frontier where we would hunt Japanese subs around the Aleutian Islands. But first, we had to do a shakedown cruise. We sailed out the Golden Gate, past the submarine nets and then turned south for San Diego.

Off the coast of Santa Barbara a 150-foot-deep shelf runs out into the ocean. We were cruising over this shelf on our way to San Diego when we picked up a Japanese sub on our sonar. We were over the sub and had it trapped in shallow water. We communicated with it through our radios using Morse Code.

We kept telling the sub crew to surrender. But they stayed hunkered down on the
bottom. The officers debated whether to drop depth charges on the sub, but the captain said, “Let’s not. It will just make them mad and they will torpedo us.” After several hours, we left. Later, after a tragic accident in the Aleutian Islands where we lost four of our shipmates, this captain was relieved of duty.

On to the Aleutians

After our shakedown cruise, we headed for the Aleutians. It wasn’t long before I fell into the routine of ship life. We would work four-hour shifts and then be off eight hours and then back on for another four. When I was off duty, I would go around the ship looking for something to do. My primary duties were in construction, helping out with

carpentry, plumbing and welding projects.

Once I was standing around when I noticed the deck felt hot. It didn’t seem right, so I explored below deck. I felt the pipes going through my sleeping compartment and into the fuel tank. Although they were covered in asbestos, they were hot. I tracked the pipes back up to the deck, where there were some valves. I discovered that they all were turned on, allowing steam to travel down into the fuel tanks. They should have been turned off when the ship was first put into service three months earlier. I turned them off because the ship ran on steam, and it was important to not waste it, not to mention that steam would condense and put water into the fuel tank.

Our sleeping compartment didn’t have any windows and was no bigger than a living room in a doublewide trailer. It was crammed full of bunks stacked four high with 18 inches between them. There was no privacy, but that didn’t bother me. The only way out was through a hatch in the ceiling.

In good weather, we would open a large hatch about four-by-four feet. But in bad weather when water was sloshing around on deck, we had to batten down this hatch and crawl through a small space not much wider than our shoulders. When we had to go to the bathroom, we climbed through the hatch and walked to a head in another part of the ship. Fortunately this seldom happened. We were young and slept through the night.

Tight Quarters

Sleeping on a ship isn’t like sleeping on land. To avoid rolling out of the bunk when the seas were rough, you draped your arms underneath the bunk and hung on. It was called “hugging a bunk.”

Our sleeping compartment was below the water line. I was lying in my bunk half asleep when a sub came so close I heard our sonar ping off its hull. I jumped out of my bunk and ran for my battle station, but the sub stayed below the surface and left the area.
Being in tight quarters like that might bother some people, but not me. Sometimes we didn’t shower for several days, but I don’t recall a bad odor. You just accept what you had. The only smell that got to me was when they fried liver in the cook shack, which was midship, next to where I bunked. I hated that smell.

Next to the cook shack was the mess hall, which had a half dozen tables. You could always get hot coffee there. We made fresh water by boiling sea water and condensing the steam. However, on occasions we would get low on our drinking water, and you might get a mouthful of salt water.

With almost 190 guys on board, something was always going on in the mess hall. Not only did we eat there, we played cards during off hours. I spent many an hour there playing pinochle. Once in awhile we would set up the projector, cleared off one of the walls and watched a movie. The tables were held to the floor by sliding the legs into slots. We would lay the tables on their sides, sit on the floor and rest our backs against them as we watched the movie.

I had a friend in Oakland who serviced jukeboxes for a living. He would remove the old records and replace them with new ones. Before leaving for our war cruise, he gave me an armful of records, and I put them in the ship’s jukebox.

Depending on the weather, eating on ship could be tricky. In smooth weather all you had to do was put your tray on the table and clamp it down with your thumb. But when the ship was in high seas, you had to hold your tray in the air with one hand while you ate with the other. After awhile it became second nature. Every once in awhile, someone would lose his tray, and it would come sliding down the table. We just lifted our tray, let it pass by, and continued eating.

Typhoon’s Toll

When we hit the biggest storms, eating was the least of our problems. We moved down from the Aleutians to the Northern Kuril Islands, north of Japan, in the winter of 1944. We were pulling “Plane Guard” duty when a typhoon swept in from the south. Plane Guard duty meant we sailed around in large circles waiting to rescue any air crewmen who had bailed out of their planes while on their bombing runs. Luckily we never had to fish anyone out of the water in this area. But when that typhoon moved in, we turned the ship north and made a run for it.

The wind hit 170 mph and the waves were crashing over the deck. The sea was so rough I had to tie a rope around my chest and anchor it to a stanchion to keep from falling overboard. The ship tilted so much I saw footsteps on the side of the bulkhead. The typhoon covered a vast area of the North Pacific. We lost four or five ships in that storm; they just capsized and sank.

There were several ways a ship could get in trouble. If too much ice collected on the superstructure, it would get top heavy and capsize. Another concern was hull
construction. Our ship had welded seams as opposed to rivets. Welded seams were not as strong as rivets. At one point, we had five seams separate, but were able to get back to port before they endangered the ship

Once in awhile, the engine that turned the rudder would stop. We took turns serving on special teams that would turn the rudder manually when this happened. This was critical in high seas. If the ship couldn’t head into the waves, it might be broadsided by a large wave and flip over. If you didn’t drown upon entering the water, you were going to die of hypothermia within minutes.

The water was so cold and death so certain, that we had a saying: “If you go over the side, just start swimming for the bottom.”

Shipboard Justice

Not only could the ship get in trouble, but members of the crew got in their share of mischief as well. When it was a minor violation, they convened what was called a deck court. Conducted by officers, it was an easy and informal way to resolve minor
violations.

A couple of guys ended up in deck court when they broke into the sick bay and stole some medical alcohol. They mixed it with some pineapple juice and before long one of the culprits was at the back of the ship feeling no pain. He was talking with us when, out of the blue, he yelled, “I’m a depth charge,” and jumped overboard. Luckily we were in port at the time, and the fan tail was only about eight feet off the water. He swam over to the ladder hanging off the side of the ship and climbed back on board.

I was able to stay out of trouble, but not out of sick bay. Once we were tied up at the dock in the Aleutians, rigging a 20-foot-long pipe to make a suction pump for the fire hose. The ship shifted and the piped rolled over my feet, crushing my big toes. I let out a howl and they lifted the pipe off my feet.

I hobbled down to sick bay, but when I tried to go inside, the pharmacist’s mate stuck his head out and said, “Sick bay is closed for the day.” I pulled off my shoe, tipped it upside down and let the blood run out in front of him. The pharmacist mate called the doctor, but he told the pharmacist’s mate to take care of it. The guy picked up a pair of pliers, grabbed my toenails and without benefit of painkillers, pulled them off. At this point, however, my toenails were hanging on by a thread, so it didn’t hurt that much.

He wrapped my feet up in bandages and sent me on my way. I was placed on the barnacle list, which meant you were sick or injured.

In order to get around for the next few days I put on three pairs of socks and wore galoshes instead of my regular shoes. Even after I got out of the service, I still have
trouble with my big toenails. I’ve had three surgeries to have them removed but they’re still not right.

Tragedy in Port

Fortunately no one was killed on our ship due to enemy action. But a tragic accident took four of our shipmates. On Dec. 28, 1944 we pulled into Dutch Harbor in Unalaska to repair some storm damage. Since the ship was going to be in port for awhile, the captain granted liberty. At 4 p.m. a bunch of guys took a ferry from the ship into town. It looked like the old river ferries used on the Mississippi. Unalaska was a tiny town of 40, consisting of a church, theater and bar. The bar was popular due to a well-endowed bartender by the name of Kiska Pat.

The ferry quit running at 10 p.m. Four guys, Robert Lord, Hugh Proctor, Roger Weager and Allen Vanderberg, had stayed too long on shore. When they returned to the dock, the ferry was shut down. It was windy, rainy and dark. They had nowhere to go, so they borrowed a skiff and started rowing for the ship.

According to witnesses the small rowboat, only made for two people, floundered and sank half way to the ship. The young men, none older than 20, tried to swim to shore. With the cold water, big waves and heavy clothing, they didn’t stand a chance.

One of the swimmers, who had gotten a very close haircut a few days before and was wearing his favorite fur cap, made it as far as the dock. A witness reached down and made a desperate grab for him, but because of the short hair, couldn’t get a grip.
The cap slipped off the young man’s head as he sunk out of sight.

There was nothing anyone could do. Scuttlebutt spread quickly about the four men drowning. Early the next morning, off-duty personnel put together search parties. The shore was rocky and certain parts were impossible to search, but we did find two bodies. Although we wanted to stay until we found all of them, we were at war and had to move on. A week later they found a third body, but the fourth man was never found. Only a fur cap washed ashore. They were fun-loving guys and were missed dearly.

One hundred and ninety men is a lot of people. But onboard a ship where you eat, sleep and stand watch in the wee hours of the night, you quickly develop friendships. Our drowned shipmates were not killed by the enemy, but they were just as dead. We were not told the reason, but a few days later our captain, the same one who didn’t want to drop depth charges on the submarine off Santa Barbara, was relieved of duty.

Seeing death from afar doesn’t make it any easier. Less than two weeks after losing our four shipmates, we pulled into port at Attu where there was a military air base. Fighter pilots routinely flew over the area to practice dogfighting. I was just coming up on deck when two P-38 fighter planes locked tails over Massacre Bay. Unable to separate, they went into a tailspin and crashed into the bay. Neither the bodies nor the aircrafts were recovered.

Close Call

When we were not in port, we had guard duty on ship. My duty post was next to my anti-aircraft gun, which offered some protection from the wind. Because we had this protection, we took turns relieving the guys standing watch on the flying bridge who were exposed to the full brunt of the wind.

Our foul-weather gear was like a thick coverall that you stepped into and zipped up in the front. Along with the suit, we wore galoshes, several socks, gloves and a wool hat. It was good protection and kept you warm, but after a while the wind-chill factor took its toll.

One night we were running in a convoy with several other ships. It was dark and near freezing. I headed up to the flying bridge to relieve the guy for a little bit. I was there only a few minutes when I saw something on the water in front of our ship heading directly for us. Since it was wartime, everyone’s lights were blacked out. I couldn’t tell what it was at first. When it got within a couple of hundred yards, I realized that it was an oceangoing tug pulling a barge. We were on a collision course.

I yelled to the officer on deck. The officer on deck turned and yelled down to the radar man, who was not watching the screen and hadn’t seen the barge. The officer on the deck ordered the ship to veer right. The tug kept on coming like nothing was wrong. After it narrowly missed our boat, we lit the tug up with one of our powerful spotlights as it passed us. Its crew must have been sleeping. They jumped to their feet, arms flying, running around like crazy.

Although we were able to avoid the tug, there were several ships right behind us in the convoy. The officer on deck yelled on the radio for all ships behind us to scatter. That was the closest I’ve ever come, or wanted to come, to a collision.

Battle Stations

Along with guard duty we had to man battle stations. During battle stations something strange happened that I never could figure out, nor would anyone explain it to me. Way down in the bottom of the ship there was a small compartment no bigger than a man. It was so small that a man getting in had to bend his legs until his knees touched his chin. Every time we got called to battle stations, a man was placed in that hole. After he was put in, it was sealed off with a hatch and battened down. When the battle stations drill was over, they would remove the man. It was the same man each time. I asked around, but no one would tell me what purpose it served. To this day I don’t know what that was all about.

At battle stations, I was part of a seven-man crew that operated a 3” .50 caliber gun. We called them three fifties, and my position was trainer. I sat on the right side and turned the wheel that moved the barrel sideways. The guy sitting on the other side was called a pointer and he spun a wheel moving the barrel up and down. In order to aim the gun we looked into a knee-high screen that was encased in a metal bowl, which we called the pot. On the screen was a radar dot indicating the target’s position. Once the pointer lined up our dots, the gun captain gave the order to fire. The pointer fired by pulling a trigger near his wheel.

The loaders had it the worst. They had to feed the gun, catch the ejected shells and toss them overboard. In the heat of battle, not all the shells were caught by the loader. It didn’t take long until there were a bunch of hot, empty shells rolling around the deck. The loaders had to load and unload the gun, while stepping around the empties.

The three fifty fired a 13-inch projectile that was three inches round with a range of 12,000 yards. Shooting at such a great distance, especially at night and in the fog, you didn’t know what you hit, if anything. We must have fired our guns at least once a month, but it seemed every time we engaged the enemy, they ran away.

In addition to shooting at enemy ships, we were there to rescue downed pilots on bombing runs to the Kuril Islands and serve as a radio beacon for airplanes to get their bearings. But our primary mission was convoy escort. We were constantly on the hunt for Japanese submarines. This is what we trained, practiced and lived for. And it paid off one night.

Submarines and Hedgehogs

On the night of Nov. 17, 1944 we were on convoy escort when sonar picked up a submarine not far from us. We turned and chased it down. We were sitting on top of it, so our captain gave the orders to fire a salvo of hedgehogs, an anti-submarine weapon positioned at the front of the ship. They look like giant mortars and are packed with 35 pounds of explosives. You can fire up to 24 at a time in a circle pattern. Unlike depth charges, which detonate after a certain time or depth, a hedgehog only explodes when it hits the submarine.

Shortly after firing the hedgehogs, one exploded. After hearing the explosion, the sonar guys listened as the sub sank. A submarine can only go down so far before it implodes. The sonar guys heard the crushing of metal as it went past the point of no return. We couldn’t stick around to confirm the kill because we had to return to the convoy, so never got credit for sinking the sub.

When the ship pulled into port, we took turns serving on the anchor team. Lucky for me I missed the day we lost an anchor. It was Christmas Day and the team was letting out the anchor. You had to keep a certain amount of tension on the chain so it wouldn’t gain too much momentum. That day the team failed to properly control the descent, so the anchor, along with the chain, went overboard.

Somewhere in Dutch Harbor, an anchor and 200 feet of chain are holding down the ocean floor.

Russians Get Our Ship

Toward the end of the war, we turned the U.S.S. Pasco over to the Russians on the lend-lease program. We pulled into Cold Bay, Alaska where we had a secret airbase. We had to take an oath that we would not tell anyone about this airbase. When the Russians took over the ship, they got a heck of a deal. We loaded the ship up with ammo, fuel, food and other supplies before we turned it over. Restocking and refueling a ship is no small matter. I saw the ship’s log for one day when we resupplied and it had the following: 4,400 pounds of fresh potatoes, 30 gallons of milk, 225 loaves of bread and 12 dozen cinnamon rolls.

We filled the ship’s tanks with 80,046 gallons of gas and 3,100 gallons of diesel. I hate to think how many thousands of dollars in munitions we gave them.

When the Russian sailors boarded our ship, they were dirty and seemed illiterate. One spoke English, but we suspected he worked for the secret service. He never let the other Russians talk to us alone. Although we didn’t speak each other’s language, we were able to converse with gestures and sign language. Every Russian sailor had a wad of $20 bills in American money. They must have been given this money by the government because they all had the same amount and it was all in twenties. They desperately wanted to buy clothing, especially shoes. I sold them a pair of shoes for $20 – that was back when you could get shoes for $4.

I don’t remember whether I bought it or traded for it, but I ended up with a Russian belt. It had a square metal buckle with the hammer and sickle on the buckle. About 15 years ago I donated it to the museum in Sonora, but before the curator could get it registered, someone stole it.

Homeward Bound

Before leaving this base, we stayed in some barracks. One day the boatswain’s mate put us on police call searching for scraps of paper. The officers thought they were above this kind of work, so the next day they ducked out and hid. The joke was on them though. That was the day we got on a plane, flew to Kodiak and headed for home sweet home. The officers had to stay an extra day on the island.

After arriving at Kodiak, I boarded the transport ship USAT Barinov bound for Seattle. We were going back to get ready for the invasion of Japan. As we pulled into Prince Rupert, Canada, we got word that a huge bomb had been dropped on Japan, wiping out a whole city. The captain tied the whistle down and just let it blow. Throughout the harbor horns were blasting, and fire boats were shooting out streams of water. We were jumping up and down with excitement and relief.

We wanted to get ashore and celebrate, but the captain wouldn’t let us off. To our shock, the ship pulled out of port, sailing right past a warehouse that had a crowd of women standing on the roof waving at us. We continued down the coast for Seattle at a blistering speed of 5 mph. There were 200 sailors and soldiers stuck on that slow boat to China. All we could do was watch the water crawl by. They didn’t even give us extra rations.

It took us four days to reach Seattle. By the time we pulled into port, the celebration had passed us by.

Treading Water

In Seattle, I was stationed on a base repairing small boats that had been damaged
during the war. On Thanksgiving I got liberty and went to Portland for a nice homecooked meal. Everything was fine until I got an appendicitis attack. My appendix burst and turned into sepsis, which is often deadly. It was more than the hospital in Portland could handle, so they rushed me to Barns General Hospital in Vancouver. The doctors there pumped me full of penicillin and kept me for a month. There was a ton of soldiers in the hospital, but I was the only sailor, which amused the nurses.

When I was released from the hospital, I was put on a slow train to Florida to finish out my time in the service. I got off at Key West and was assigned to watch a bunch of decommissioned boats tied up at the dock.

I liked Florida, but having spent so much time in Alaska, I wasn’t prepared for all the sunshine. In the month and a half I was there I got sunburned twice.

Finally, my discharge papers came through and I was put back on a train for Seattle. Once again I rode for a miserable week on a train across the country. On mustering out I was paid $100. After various deductions I had $31.15 in my pocket, not including the $19.15 they gave me for travel.

On January 1946, I was once again a private citizen.

Gerald and Margaret days before wedding

Gerald and Margaret days before wedding

After the War

After getting out of the Coast Guard, I returned to Portland and lived with my mother and two bothers. Before the war, I had a job laying linoleum. I picked up where I had left off. Once I had saved enough money, I bought a house in Newberg, 25 miles away. My mother and my future mother-in-law arranged a picnic and introduced me to my future wife, Margaret. We started dating in 1950 and got married the next year.

We had one son, Michael, who worked as a cashier, until he died of heart failure in his 50s. Margaret developed a terminal illness and spent many months in the UC hospital in San Francisco under a research program that prolonged her life for 30 years. We were married for 49 years, but in 2000 Margaret died of congestive heart failure.

When our son moved out, and there were just the two of us again, Margaret suggested we take in foster children. I thought it was a good idea. Over a period of time we took in several foster children. Sometimes they would only be with us a couple of weeks and other times it would be for years. We adopted two of the girls, Veronica and Bonnie, both of whom became waitresses. Veronica died in her 50s, one month after my son died.

Bonnie is doing fine and lives in the area.

mr doescher and ruby 1 fixedLife in Retirement

When I retired, we moved to Sonora where I built a pre-cut log house that I lived in for several years. I now live a few miles from Sonora in a small, restored mining town called Columbia. It’s a state park and they keep it looking like the old Gold Rush days. I’ve been coming up here since the 1960s for gold mining. Later I took over an old mine that required a lot of drilling and blasting. Back then you could buy dynamite at any hardware store. I worked the Grand Turk Mine on the eastside of Jackass Hill in Calaveras County, and in the 1970s I bought a mine called the Valparaiso.

In addition to mining, I was a gunsmith. I built and sold custom hunting rifles. Before it
got so crowded around here, I could walk out into my backyard with a rifle and hunt deer. I have always supported the National Rifle Association. I belong to the Coast Guard Combat Veterans, and over the years I have attended reunions and stayed in touch with some of my shipmates. I am one of the only two remaining members of the crew that served on the Pasco.

About 12 years ago I met Ruby Buksa. She was taking care of an elderly couple. When they passed away, some friends introduced us and we have been together ever since.

She’s 80 years old and moved here from Texas when she was 16. I’m 88 and have it pretty good, even though I have to take insulin shots twice a day.

Gerald Doescher in 2013

Gerald Doescher in 2013

Reflections

I was awarded the good conduct medal and some service medals, but I really did not think much about the service once I got out.

I do hold the Japanese responsible for starting the war, and for years I wouldn’t buy anything made in Japan. But after awhile, not buying Japanese was impractical.

I’ve always gotten along with people, and serving on a ship just reinforced the importance of working well with others.

Although I don’t agree with sending our people to fight wars halfway across the world like we are doing now, I do think serving in the military is a good experience for young people.

2 thoughts on “Gerald E. Doescher: My Service on the USS Pasco

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *