The Hattiesburg Victory Maiden Voyage

I read “Time Running Out for Historic SS Hattiesburg Victory” by Royce Armstrong in the February, 2009, The Anchor Light with great interest. Why? Because I was on the vessel’s maiden voyage. Thus, I’d like to add some information that may be of interest.

Mr. Armstrong wrote: “The Hattiesburg Victory was built during the summer of 1945 and delivered to the American Hawaiian Steamship Co. on Sept. 15, 1945, 13 days after the Japanese surrender. My “Official Assignment” as 3rd Radio Officer from the American Communications Association is dated 9-15-45 and tells me to go to the United States Public Health in San Pedro for a physical and then report to Mr. Vogel’s office berth 175.

The Hattiesburg Victory’s initial destination was Tokyo and Yokohama with supplies for the military personnel already populating Japan. We were told that we were the first Merchant ship in Tokyo Bay, which was replete with Navy vessels.

The citizens of Hattiesburg, Mississippi had donated a phonograph and and some records for the entertainment of the crew.  The Chief Radio Officer (whose name I have forgotten; it was nearly 64 years ago) hooked up a simple one-tube oscillator to the main mast, and we were able to send music to all the radios on board. I volunteered to serve as disk jockey, and my work was made easier because somehow we also acquired a bunch of V-Discs.

It was great until we received a message from the Navy sent to all ships in the harbor to “immediately cease all unauthorized transmissions.” We guessed the oscillator had been doing a really good job.

Hopefully, I have your attention this far. This compels me to tell about my Jeep ride to Mt. Fujiyama. When the Hattiesburg Victory finally got to a dock and began unloading, an Army Lieutenant and a driver turned up. The Officer yelled to those visible on board that if he could have a shower he would take the person to Mt. Fujiyama. Since I had no shipboard duties and had use of a shower, I immediately volunteered.

Our first stop, because it looked so interesting, was a village populated by Caucasians who mainly spoke German with some halting English. They were German males and their families who were in Japan aiding that country militarily when war broke out. Our second stop was a lake, with Mt. Fujiyama visible in the distance, which probably was Lake Kawaguchi. We could see a ferry type vessel quite far in the distance, and I approached a young Japanese male with the words “When ferry come here?” His response was, “About eleven o’clock.” Which prompted me to inquire where he was from. “L.A.,” he answered. He was visiting his grandparents and, like the Germans, was stuck there for the duration.

Now comes the best part of this story, but not the best part of the trip. When we arrived at the road leading up to Mt. Fujiyama, there was a barrier blocking any entrance. The Lieutenant asked a fellow officer nearby why we couldn’t continue. We were told that there was dispute between two military groups as to which one was entitled place the sign, “You Are Entering Mt. Fujiyama Courtesy of the Fifth Marine Division (or “the First Army Brigade”). Those designations are not accurate; I’m not sure I ever heard the correct “owners.”

After leaving Japan and brief stops in Manila and Singapore, we arrived at Calcutta, India. The reason was clear, because we began loading bombs that—it goes without saying—were no longer needed in the war effort. The ironic thing about loading bombs in Calcutta is that my first and previous ship, the SS Beaver Victory, also on its maiden voyage, unloaded bombs there.

For another personal reference, I trained to become a Radio Officer on the Maritime Training Ship SS Martha Buehner, docked in Long Beach, where I grew up. I had just graduated high school at age seventeen and two months. The day the Beaver Victory crossed the Equator was exactly on my 18th Birthday, a “great” present as I was admitted to the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep as a Shellback.

I was the youngest officer on the three ships I sailed on (number three was the SS Marine Wolf, a troopship). There’s another irony there. Right after high school, I first tried to join the Navy. I passed the visual acuity test but failed the color blindness test.

Because I really wanted to do what I could in the war effort, I joined the Merchant Marine (thanks to all the radio ads and billboards). What’s the irony? The SS Beaver Victory had a Navy Armed Guard and the Navy officer in charge of the Guard was my roommate. And I was, and still am, red-green color blind.

The SS Hattiesburg Victory went from Calcutta, through the Suez Canal, to Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. And that ended its  first voyage.

By Leonard R. Wines

Leonard passed away February 2, 2015

A Day I Haven’t Forgotten

Ensign Wines

Victory Ships

This article appeared in the April, 2009, issue of The Anchor Light, a monthly publication of the U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans World War II.