The lingering breeze from last night’s storm threatened to spill the fog from Kin Bay onto the station. Petty officer first class Smith rapped once on my office screen door.
“We’re good to go, sir. I just came from the beach. It’s damned foggy and the bay is still moving around a good bit, but I don’t think we’ll have a problem.”
“Thanks, Smith, I’ll be ready to roll in 10.” I had considered canceling the routine supply run, but the weather report called for clearing, and the wind was expected to die down, so getting back from the main Island of Okinawa in the afternoon was not going to be a problem. Smith was an experienced LCM coxswain, and I had great confidence in him.
The M boat was bobbing a bit, even in our protected cove, as I backed the jeep up the ramp and into position in front of our truck. Smith brought the ramp up, backed out expertly, made the pivot and headed out into the bay. The choppy waves pounded the flat ramp like a hammer trying to stop our forward motion. Visibility was less than a two hundred yards.
Half way into the seven mile crossing, an offshore breeze from the main island joined forces with the rising sun to lift the veil of fog. The coxswain called out, “Sir, we’ve got a problem here!”
I got out of the jeep, moved aft to climb the ladder leading to the cockpit. Before I got to the top I could clearly see “the problem.” We had blindly moved into the middle of a joint military exercise. We were surrounded by Amphibious Attack Transports, (APA’s), with their brood of LCVP’s and LCM’s circling them, like ducklings clinging to their mothers, their assault troops at the ready. The assault task force included a few Navy destroyer escorts and minesweepers.
Our uninvited and unexpected black Coast guard utility vessel was the ugly duckling in the middle of a gray Pacific Fleet Task Force! I envisioned Jeff Chandler, in the movie Away All Boats, on the wing of the command ship, all squinty eyed and strong jawed, preparing to give the signal to attack.
I grabbed the binoculars, and scanned the beach. A hazy picture of bleachers filled with military observers emerged in the thinning fog. There was at least one general’s flag flying along with two foreign ensigns. It was too late now.
“Smith, take us in slowly, get us unto the beach so we can get the hell out of the way. Then you go back to the station and I’ll call on land line to set up a pick-up time. Think you can hold it steady in this surf?”
“Yes, sir. It’s not too bad; we can off-load OK.”
The ramp splashed onto the beach, the stern rose and fell with the wavelets, but Smith held us steady with his skillful use of engines and rudder. A two foot wide coil of wire, slapping in the surf about 3 feet in front of our ramp, was not a welcome mat. I moved to the top of the ramp. From the front of the bleachers about 50 yards to the right I saw a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, direct from central casting, a cigar stub in his mouth, sleeves rolled up. He was unperturbed by the sloshing water that soaked his pants half way up his calf. His combat boots cut angry deep divots in the wet sand. He stopped in front of our ramp. “Who the hell are you and where the hell did you come from?” He was steaming.
“Sir, I’m Lieutenant (JG) Marcott, CO of the Coast Guard Loran station on Ikeshima,” I saluted sharply and pointed toward the island. “Sir, I’m sorry to break up the exercises, but we received no message traffic about this. Clearly we would have never made our supply run today had I known.”
“I don’t give a damn about that,” he bellowed, “What I’m pissed about is we’ve held up this exercise for over an hour because the God damned Navy says it’s still too rough in here to land their boats!!” (His language throughout this exchange was a little more Marine-like.)
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I shouldn’t have said them. “Well sir, we’re pretty serious about our run—we’re after bread, milk and letters from home!”
I gulped then waited for what seemed an eternity. The colonel’s icy stare burned holes into my head, then suddenly he turned toward the beach and ordered, “Someone—anyone, cut this damned wire and clear a way for this man across the beach—Now! Then tell the Navy to get this damned show on the road!” Did I detect a slight smile?
I wasted no time getting across the beach, and up the road, passing units of the “red army” dug in, and waiting for the amphibious assault of the “blue army.” The Colonel’s war was about to begin.