My Narrow Escape from Death in WWII by Perry Anderson

Oral True Account by Perry Anderson
About his Narrow Escape from Death
in WWII (1995)

When my draft notice was received I was only 20 years old at the time. I had no idea what the future held in store for me. The bus took me from DeRidder to Fort Hamburg, Shreveport, Louisiana where I had to process for induction into service. I was given a choice of Army, Marines or the Navy. At first I joined the line for the Marines and then decided to step into the line to join the Navy as I though it would be the better choice.

On 28 April 1943 I was sent to boot camp at San Diego Training Station in California. Then I was sent to Seattle Naval Station in the state of Washington where I was to await further assignment in the service.

In Astoria, Oregon I joined the VC10 Squadron which trained up and down the West Coast. I was assigned to the ship, an escort carrier of the U. S. Navy, the USS Gambier Bay which I boarded in San Diego. My ship assignment was in V-2 Division, as an aircraft yeoman. My duties were to service the planes such as the fuselage and motor and make reports to pilots.

My first battle was at the Mariana’s. Guam and Saipan had already been taken from the U.S. When close to the Philippines, each ship had an escort in case a pilot went down in the waters patrolled by Japanese submarines. I was in the battles of Saipan, Tinian, Guam, and Battle of Lyte Gulf where the Gambier Bay was sunk on 25 Oct 1944. The first hit was at 8:20 a.m. and until we sank, we were being hit every other minute. At 8:45 a.m. our ship was hit on both sides by enemy fire.

The order to “Abandon Ship” came at 8:50 a.m. With shipmate’s dead or dying and many trapped on board, it was a heart wrenching sight to see when the order came to “Abandon.” That’s when we had to slide by ropes down the side of the ship into the water. All the while our hands were stinging and burning from the friction of the rope. Until I could locate a life boat, my life preserver kept me afloat. It was the style that was filled with milk weed kapok. When the strings were pulled, it inflated automatically. While abandoning the ship, the enemy ships in various directions were still firing at us. With men in the water and the USS Gambier Bay sinking, we did not lower our flag to surrender. That would have been disgraceful for our nation and our US Navy.

Our ship was sunk in the Battle off Samar after helping to turn back a much larger attacking Japanese surface. We had been ambushed by the largest Japanese Naval force ever brought together. Three of our escorts were also sunk. The U.S. aircraft carrier, USS Gambier Bay, in World War II, was the only one to be sunk by naval gunfire.

Though wounded in action (WIA), I managed to swim away from the sinking ship. I was one of the survivors on a donut life raft after spending 72 hours in water. It was designed for 72 men but because of decayed slats the raft had no bottom. Over a two day period, 1,110 men drifted more than 60 miles in shark infested waters without food or drinkable water. In the dead of night, with spotlights aglow in waters patrolled by enemy submarines, rescuers from Patrol and Landing Craft placed their own lives in danger to find and rescue the survivors still floating about at sea. We were in the South Pacific, near Somalia when what seemed like an eternity, a ship came by looking for survivors. Our exuberance turned to sadness when we were told the ship was already loaded but another ship would be by in about an hour. After not having food and water for many hours, I was too weak to climb the rope ladder when I was finally picked up by an LC1.

After being in water for such a long time, the first thing I did was to remove my clothes so as to dry them in the sun. About that time a Japanese plane flew over us so I had to do a quick change of covering my body with clothes. For many years that pair of pants were kept as a souvenir.

I was then taken to one of the Philippine Islands and put aboard a hospital ship. Then I was taken to New Guinea Naval Hospital. From there I was put on the luxury liner, SS Lurline and shipped to fleet hospital in San Francisco.

Seaman First Class (S1/C) Anderson was discharged 18 June 1945 in New Orleans. He was awarded five battle stars and a purple heart.

Perry crossed the bar in 1998