"Where the Fleet Goes,
We've Been"

“A people who do not honor the deeds of their worthy dead will do nothing worthy of being honored by their descendants.” - Macaulay

PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF THE SINKING
July 09, 1944
Jackson, D. L. GM2c
USS Swerve AM-121

Darrell Jackson, GM2c

It’s Sunday morning. (Same old routine) The Black Balls are up. The paravanes and all sweep gear are out. Everything is peaceful as we sweep for mines along a prescribed course.

No other ships are in sight. The sea is calm and the sky is a brilliant blue and everyone is semi-relaxed. I have the 0800 – 1200 watch on the Flying Bridge. We are covering the area north of Anzio and it has taken us about four hours to make a cycle. In other words we travel about two hours NW out of Anzio and make a complete turn and sweep back paralleling the area we just traveled over.

I can just barely make out a hazy outline of the Italian coast on my right. I got to thinking about Reynolds, Smith and the others who had left for Rome that morning.

I could just imagine the time they were having. Next weekend would be my turn. I would have to be patient.

I looked back aft and saw the paravanes half submerged and making small wakes in the sea. They look just like the dolphins that had chased us and played with us in the Mediterranean. Then I started musing about why this part of the sea we were in was called the Tyrrhenian and on the east side of Italy the sea was the Adriatic and still farther south of us it was the Mediterranean. They all ran together. I wondered why someone hadn’t named the whole area Mediterranean and be done with it.

The Control Box brought me out of my daydreaming. “Jackson, Report!” I flipped my control button, “Everything’s normal sir.” “Well, keep a sharp lookout.” “Aye, aye, sir.” I flipped my switch off and looked around and started checking my lookout station. Everyone was on the ball. I looked at my watch. 1130, time to be relieved.

I saw Taylor’s head show up at the top of the ladder and he scrambled up on the bridge. Handing the headphones to him I said, “All’s quiet on the western front.” “Well good”, he grunted, “I can stand a little peace and quiet, especially a little piece.” “Maybe we can both get a little when we get to Rome.” And down the ladder I went.

I met Richardson at the bottom. I asked him if he had the duty in the Crows Nest again. “Yep, he replied, “Up where the birdies fly.” “Have fun”, I said.

As I walked along the deck I felt a slight breeze and looking out to the port side I noticed a few white caps forming. Hope it doesn’t get rough, I thought.

The chow line was empty and fried chicken was served. My favorite meal. Coming out of the chow hall I bumped into the chief Boatswain. Keeler looked at me and half grunted and half growled, “What’s your plans for the afternoon, Guns?” “Chief, I’m retiring to my private horizontal office up front. Call me when I make Chief.”

I heard him mumble as I went down the ladder to the crew quarters. I caught a couple of cuss words, but I didn’t let it bother me. He still couldn’t get it through his head why the Gunnersmates didn’t have to physically participate in the mine sweeping operations.

I removed my shoes and socks and crawled into my sack and stretched out real comfortably, wriggled my toes and settled down for a good nap. I reached the stage of being about half asleep when all hell broke loose. Ka – Whoom!

The force of the explosion knocked me out of my bunk and on to the deck right on my butt. I jumped up and the first thing I noticed was the steel deck was burning my feet. I grabbed my shoes and slipped them on. My first thought was, my God an airplane has dropped a bomb on the fantail. I grabbed my kapok life jacket and headed topside.

The General Quarters alarm had started and I could hear, “man your battle stations, all hands man your battle stations.” I knew we were in for it and was almost positive by then that an airplane had gotten us.

I ran out of the hatch and right into McCarthy, a Machinist Mate. I knocked him back a couple of feet. As he stumbled I noticed that he had his hands up to his eyes and he was covered with oil. He was groaning, “Help me, I’m blind. For Gods sake, help me!” I grabbed him by the arm and led him to my battle station. Without even thinking I gave him my life jacket and got him to lie down out of the flow of traffic. He told me the bulkhead collapsed on him.

I made a wild dash up to the 3 inch and plugged in my earphones to the bridge. I took a fast look around and saw that I had enough of my crew to fire the gun and reported to the bridge “Number 1 gun manned and ready!” The word came back, “Standby!” I signaled to the gun captain and he informed me the gun was loaded. Looking up at the bridge I could see the gunnery officer talking on his phones. Everything was “orderly confusion”.

While all this was going on I kept looking at the sky, but no planes. Something was strange about the bow. Then I think it dawned on me and my gun crew. No wonder the bow didn’t look right, we had struck a mine somewhere aft and we were going down and that was slanting the bow of the ship.

About that time the gun captain ran up to me and yelled, “Ask the captain if we can secure and go aft and help out.” I nodded, yes and told him to unload the gun. The gunnery officer gave me permission to secure the gun. We ran back to amidships and we noticed the ship had a heavy list to the port. About 20 guys were on the starboard side trying to lower the one long whale boat the ship carried. All to no avail, the ship had rolled so far to port that the whale boat couldn’t be dropped to the water.

There we all were tugging on the lines trying to swing that boat out. Well, almost all of us were. I looked over and saw Wilson, my ammo passer stood with one leg on the deck and the other over the rail. “Get over here you little bastard,” I yelled, “And give us a hand.” He just stood there and shook his head, no.

We gave up trying to get the boat lowered. Turning loose of the line I walked over to Wilson. “What’s the matter with you? The captain hasn’t given the word to abandon ship.” “I know it”, he replied, “but I’m gonna be ready when he does.” No time to argue with him for at that instance the captains voice came over the loud speaker. “This is the captain speaking, now hear this, all hands abandon ship.”

It occurred to me that I had an abandon ship station on the starboard side along the bridge. I was supposed to release a kapok net. As I started running toward the ladder that leads up to the bridge I looked back and saw Wilson go over the side like a shot out of a cannon. I thought to myself. Hell, he’ll be in Naples before I get off the ship.

I came to a screeching halt. Like a bolt out of the blue it dawned on me – no life jacket! I almost panicked then and there. Then I spied one over against the railing. It wasn’t a kapok, but an inner tube type worn around the waist. On one end are 2 cartridges and when you squeeze them after you get in the water the inner tube is inflated. I grabbed it and buckled it around my waist.

I could feel the deck getting steeper under foot and I knew I would never make it to that kapok net. Scrambling to the rail I prepared to abandon ship. She had rolled so far by this time that the degaussing cable housing was out of the water. The housing was half-round and ran completely around the ship. It was probably 20 inches in width and stuck out from the side of the ship about 12 inches.

I couldn’t jump and clear the ship so I started sliding down. My butt hit the housing and I could feel the hide come off my tail bone. I went up in the air about a foot and then fell into the water. Guess who I met coming up out of the water just as I was going down? My old buddy Williams. I hit him just as his head broke the water and down he went again about 6 feet under the water and me on top of him. Thrashing, clawing and kicking we broke through to top. Wiping his face and sputtering water he gasped out. “You son of a bitch, you almost drowned me.”

As scared as I was I couldn’t keep from laughing at him.

I realized that I had better get away from the ship before it sucked us under. “Come on let’s get away from her before we both get sucked under.” And away I went.

I kept looking back at the ship at the ship and all of a sudden I saw Richardson execute a swan dive from the bow. I just knew he would bash his brains out on the side, but luckily he cleared it by a couple of feet.

Suddenly, I realized the water was quite rough and that I was tired. I reached down and squeezed the cartridges in my life belt and felt the air balloon the belt out. I also noticed small bubbles coming up out the water and it came to me that my life belt had a hole in it.

I didn’t have too much time to think about it for about that time an object looking somewhat like a turtle with no head came flapping by. Out of this hole where a head should have been came this shrill voice, “Help! Help! Somebody help me.” Two short arms stuck out from the side and they were hitting the water like paddles. I hollered, “Slow down and I’ll help you.” The arms stopped flailing momentarily and I got along side and looked down in the hole and saw two big old eye balls and a white face looking up at me. It was Warren, a seaman in the deck gang.

He jumped, fell, or slid off the ship and had forgotten to tie the strap on his kapok life jacket up between his legs and it pulled up over his head and left part of his arms sticking out. One thing for sure it hadn’t stopped him from making knots away from the ship. Grabbing the bottom of his life jacket I pulled it down his back and his head appeared through the hole.

By that time he had calmed down somewhat and as we treaded water and I asked him if he knew of anyone not getting off. Before he could answer me the USS Swerve’s bow slid under the water and we were both silent for a few minutes. He turned to me and started telling me about Jones who had relieved Harrison on the phones on the fan tail. “I knew he couldn’t have lived through the deal for he was blown about 30 feet in the air when we hit the mine.”

We separated and I swam up along side Gabronski. A signalman and he didn’t look so good. “Are you alright, buddy?” I asked him.

“I think my leg and hip is busted, he answered. “I can’t move my leg.”

“Take it easy, maybe the radioman got off an S.O.S. Something should show up to pick us up.” I assured him.

For about the fifth time I grabbed the tube to my life belt and blew it up again. I was completely pooped out. About this time I was also half sick from salt water I had swallowed and felt like heaving my guts out. The life belt had slipped down around my fanny and was keeping it out of the water more than my head. If I could figure out how to breathe through it I would have it made.

Over on my left but too far away to recognize the characters are a couple of sailors astride a paravane that must have broken loose. The paravane was rolling over, but these guys were hanging on for dear life. Just like a bucking bronco in a rodeo...

AFTERWORD:
This account was taken from handwritten notes found among some old papers and documents 35 years after the death of Darrell Jackson. Maybe there are more left to find that will complete the story.


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