Life Jacket

By Evan Holly Crawforth


..\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Catalog\SwimmerSurvivor.jpg

..\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Catalog\TobinLJ3.jpg



When we first put the Midway in commission, we were issued the standard blue kapok Mae West life jacket.  However we soon found that theses jackets had drawbacks:  They were bulky and uncomfortable--but they did make great pillows when sleeping on the hard steel decks.  We also found, after using them as pillows, the kapok compacted and no longer remained buoyant-- in fact, as a test we threw one overboard and found that it promptly went to the bottom.  However, shipboard regulations and prudence dictated that they be worn or be close at hand at all times.  As usual, the officers were privy to anything new, and when a supply of inflatable belt life jackets came aboard, the gold braid blossomed with these new, more comfortable and more dependable jackets, which, when uninflated fit nicely in a belt mounted pouch made by the ship’s sail maker (yes, despite the lack of sails, ships still had sail makers).  This was a signalman who repaired and made new signal flags.   However the ingenuity of the average enlisted man was not to be discounted.  Most of us somehow found ways to acquire one these new jackets, along with the pouch to carry it.  These new jackets came in two types, those inflatable by CO2 cartridges and those inflatable by mouth.  It was also possible to inflate the CO2 belts by mouth in the event of a malfunction or exhaustion of the cartridges.  The squadron members used the inflatable, yellow “Mae West” worn around the neck and extending down to the waist where it was secured by a belt.



..\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Catalog\Fireroom.jpgOn October 25, 1944 we found just how valuable these life saving devices were.  Following the Kamikaze hit, I arrived at Radio Two.  When I heard the “Abandon ship” bugle call, I realized the precarious position of the Radio Two compartment hanging above the exploding Hangar Deck and below the burning flight deck.  I told my two strikers to “Get the hell out of here” and slammed the heavy steel door just as the compartment plates covering the bulkhead blast holes blew out with one of the many explosions.  We ran into Radar, but the door to the flight deck sponson was jammed due to the explosions.  Somehow, we ripped the door off it’s hinges and ran out to the chaos of the flight deck.  Many men were milling about in a confused state, not seeming to realize that the ship was done for.  I told Wise and Halverson to follow me and headed to the forward starboard 40 MM gun sponson—as far away from the exploding after end of the ship as we could get.  But when I jumped down to the gun tub, neither Halverson nor Wise was there.  With the explosions becoming greater, I could no longer wait; I stepped over the side of the gun tub, grabbed the knotted line and started down hand over hand.  When down on the rope approximately eight feet, I was hit from above by a man, who had probably lost his grip.  My hands slid down the rope burning them and then came loose from the rope and I hit the water feet first, going so deep that it was getting dark and I felt that I would never come up.  At last I emerged gasping for air and saw the huge bulk of the ship’s stern swinging toward me.  Assuming that the screws were still turning and realizing the danger of being sucked into them, I began swimming furiously to get as far away as I could from the exploding, burning, out of control ship.


I heard a call, “Holly, over here” and saw Elmer Margheim waving at me.  I swam over to Elmer and we assured each other that we weren’t hurt.  At this time, I decided it would be a good idea to inflate my life jacket and squeezed it to rupture the CO2 cartridges, inflating the two compartments.  As I did this, I looked down and saw the CO2 bubbling out of both compartments through a diagonal slash across the entire belt.  Realizing it was no longer usable; I unbuckled it and let the belt drop down into the depths of the Philippine Trench.  For some reason, I was not too concerned with the loss of the life jacket as I was a strong swimmer.  For a short time, Elmer and I swam toward a ship miles away on the horizon.


Suddenly, I felt a strange sensation in my arm and I heard Elmer scream, “I can’t see”, I looked over to see his face covered in blood.  As I tried to swim over to Elmer, I found I couldn’t lift my arm, but I paddled with my left arm and reached Elmer.  My attention was then drawn to the pain in my bleeding right arm and shoulder.   It appeared that a shrapnel blast from the explosions on our sinking ship had caught both of us and we found later that a piece of shrapnel had gone up Elmer’s nose and exited through his left eye.  We were in deep trouble, and it seemed our only chance was to head for a ship on the horizon.  I told Elmer to grab onto my belt with one arm, paddle with the other and I would paddle with my usable left arm. ..\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Catalog\TobinLJ2.jpg After a short time, another shipmate drifted across our course to the ship on the horizon.  As he floated along, like a day at the beach, I saw that he had two pneumatic life jackets, one under his knees and one under his neck.  He inquired if we were O.K., I told him that Elmer, now calmed down from his earlier panic, couldn’t see out of his eye and I couldn’t lift my arm.  He inquired where my life jacket was and I told him it wouldn’t hold air and I had abandoned it, to which his response was, “hell, you can have one of these”.  He whipped the one out from under his knees and passed it over to me.  Although I can still see his face, I can’t remember his name. With difficulty, I managed to get the inflated belt buckled around my waist and felt much more secure.  While I was a strong swimmer, I didn’t know how long it would be before we made it to the still small ship on the horizon.  In retrospect, it was probably between three and fours hours and it’s doubtful that I would have been able to swim for that long without support of the donated jacket.  We found that we could ride the three-foot waves up to the top of the wave and then paddle like hell on the way down, gradually closing the distance to the small ship on the horizon.  As we neared the ship, I could see the number—405 on it’s bow.  This would be the Dennis, I remembered from call signs set up when we left Manus prior to the Leyte invasion.  As we drew closer, I could see large numbers of our people in the water and the decks of the Dennis crowded with members of our crew—the Dennis picked up over four hundred of us--in addition to pilots from other ships.


..\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Catalog\Wounded aboard DennisBlu.jpg



The Dennis had dropped cargo nets over the side and as the next wave swept us up to them and onto the side of the ship, I attempted to climb up the net as I encouraged Elmer to climb. But as he couldn’t see and I was limited to the use of one arm, I called to the people on the deck to give us a hand, but the answer I got back was” you’ll have to do it yourself mate.”  In exasperation, I yelled back, “Goddammit this guy can’t see and I can’t lift my arm.”   Almost immediately strong arms lifted us up and onto the crowded deck. We lay there gasping with exhaustion from our long grueling swim, until my head cleared and some sense returned to my numbed brain, I then realized that we both needed medical attention, arose and asked the nearest man ”where’s Sick Bay?”  He pointed to a hatch and said, “They’re using the chow hall.”  At my urging, Elmer arose unsteadily to his feet, and leaning on each other, we made it to the hatch that opened into a nightmare.  Wounded were lying on mess tables, benches and the deck—wherever there was room. 








   Lt. (jg)  Don James Weekes 
..\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Catalog\Weekes.jpg






 I spied our Flight Surgeon, Lt. Weekes working on an improvised operating table—really a mess table.  I lead Elmer over and said “Dr. Weekes, can you help this guy, he’s lost a lot of blood?”  He looked up from his gory task and said, ”Put him over there and I’ll get to him when I can.”  He then said, with a grim smile, “You don’t look so good yourself.”  I nodded around the compartment at the badly wounded, burned bodies and answered, “I’m a hell of a lot better off than most of these guys.”  As the Dennis had only Pharmacist Mates and no Doctor, how fortunate for us that this doctor was one of those picked up by this particular ship.  One of the forgotten stories of this terrible day, was the impressive work by this man who worked almost without sleep or rest for the two days we were aboard this small, crippled, over crowded ship.  I’ll never forget him.  After he ministered to Elmer, bandaging his eye and giving him a painkiller from the Dennis’ pitifully small supply, he fashioned a splint for my arm and furnished a sling to support it. He then asked Ashley Cherry and me to try to find a bunk for Elmer.   



    We wondered where on the tiny, crowded ship we would find such a space.  But, just behind us, Captain Hansen of the Dennis said, much to our surprise,” put him in my bunk.”  After settling Elmer in the Captain’s bunk, we almost immediately heard an announcement on the P.A. “Hey you guys from the St. lo, we need help bailing.”  As we were still in a state of shock, the message didn’t quite get through to our tired brains, but a second announcement followed shortly, “okay you guys from the St. Lo, if you don’t want another ship to go down, you’ll help us bail.”  This caught our attention and I soon found myself as a member of a bucket brigade, passing buckets from the flooded forward compartments—where the pumps weren’t working--where water was gushing through shell holes made by the big enemy guns.  Finally, stuffing mattresses into them and welding steel mess tables over them stopped the inrush of water...\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Catalog\Copy of Dennis8inshellhitBlu.jpg











 The forward turret of the Dennis





That night after a scanty meal, (The Dennis cooks had to feed an additional 450 men from their depleted stores) I looked for a place to bed down.  A bunk was out of the question, so I, along with others found a spot under the forward 5-inch gun turret. But this rest was soon interrupted by the klaxon sound of the General Quarters alarm—a submarine had been picked up by the ship’s Sonar.  After the ordeal of the day, I took the precaution of blowing up my acquired life jacket and no sooner had I finished than the hatch above me opened up and a gunner’s mate yelled down, “You better get the hell out of there mate, this is the hot shell hatch and if we have ..\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Catalog\tapsBlu.jpg to fire, the empty shells will come down on top  of you”—where the hell  would I go!!  But Art Gross, a Radioman buddy from the St. Lo, and I crawled out from under the turret and made our way through the jam-packed ship and finally wound up on the Torpedo Deck, where strangely, no one was bedded down.  Off to one side were canvas bags that would make a good pillow, so we laid claim immediately, not believing our good fortune.  The next morning, a burial detail from the ship arrived on the Torpedo Deck, to carry the bags down to the burial ceremony to be held on the fantail.


During the next two days, we had numerous General quarters and even though it was uncomfortable, I finally decided to leave the life jacket inflated.  But I would never let go of it.


What a relief to arrive in Kossol Passage at Palau.  It was here that Elmer and I were separated, not to see each other until I was assigned to teach in the Radar School in San Diego and found that Elmer was in the Naval hospital in Balboa Park for many operations on his eye and face.   We had a very emotional first reunion and many liberties together. 


 I still had the life jacket with the name of Harry Tobin stenciled on it.  I was unfamiliar with Harry and, as we were scattered to the four corners of the globe after the sinking, except for close friends and buddies, we didn’t know who was killed on that terrible day. The life jacket remained forgotten in my sea bag until our first reunion in Charleston, SC in 1984.  It was at this reunion we were given a list of the Killed in Action and I found the name of Harry Tobin on that KIA list.  It’s hard to describe my feelings when I realized that I had the life jacket of a dead man.  But, how did my anonymous friend acquire the jacket?


Many years later at a reunion, I related the story to Bob Floyd.  When I wondered what had happened to Harry Tobin, he said, “I know exactly what happened, I saw Harry going down a line and his life jacket slipped off into the water.  Harry couldn’t swim and he frantically tried to hang onto the rope, but ultimately he dropped into the water.  I tried to get to him, but he never came up.”  He continued,  “Until now I didn’t know what had happened to the life jacket.”  Now at least, the mystery was solved.  My nameless benefactor apparently came across the floating inflated jacket and took it, not knowing how it came to be floating loose. 



..\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Catalog\HarryTobin 001.jpgIt seems that sooner or later, you run across somebody who knows somebody—a mutual acquaintance so to speak.  Unexpectedly, I received a phone call from Dick Hansen, who told me that he had been referred to me and was seeking information on his boyhood friend Harry Tobin.  He advised me that he and Harry had grown up together in St, Mary’s Home for Boys in Beaverton Oregon, a suburb of Portland.  When I told him that I didn’t know Harry, but had his life jacket, Dick became very emotional and told me that Harry had made St. Mary’s the beneficiary of his $10,000,00 service life insurance policy.  With this money, the trustees of St. Mary’s had built a swimming pool with a plaque honoring Harry.  After much thought, I volunteered to donate the life jacket to a small museum at the home in Beaverton.  In a small simple ceremony attended by many of Harry’s boyhood friends, I donated the jacket in Harry’s memory.






USS Dennis
(See USS Dennis on Facebook also)


USS Fogg


Delbert W. Miller


 USS Fogg Di Milla  Photos  

DE-405, Cafferty Scrapbook



Baguio POW Camp, Philippines

Omori POW Camp

USS Fogg Honor Roll


EM2/c Harold M. Compton, USS Fogg, DE-57      

WWII Diary

ZERO by C. Davis Fogg


Letter to Carleton Fogg
by Susan Lane Fuss

USS Fogg Ship's Log
 1943 to 1945