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Norm Stimmel Letter

Lt. N.S. Stimmel, USNR

March, 1945

Dear René,

            As you can guess, our mail service is worse than terrible.  Your letter arrived with the mail dating back to December 14, 1944.  And that was not due to our lack of diligence.  I have seen our mail clerk wear out a pair of shoes trudging to various Fleet Post Offices.  When I went ashore today I told the anxious crew that I would either bring back mail, or the body of the officer in charge of the local FPO.  And the crew did not care much which I returned with.  And in this area we carry sidearms when we go ashore, so it was not an idle threat.  Fortunately, mail had arrived, so bloodshed was averted.

            At the last writing, I believe I had been through the Leyte Invasion and the battle of Surigao Straits (I hope the spelling is correct, because I’m too lazy to look it up.)  Since that time, life has been one invasion after another.  We had a bit of a tiff at Ormoc, on the other side of Leyte.

            Then came Mindoro, which was short, but anything but sweet.  We moved in some hours before the invasion, which is late by our reckoning, and with no lights showing except on our floats, swept the areas where the ships were to go.  We also had to plant some floats to indicate the swept channels, which floats also carried lights.  But we could not fool the Japs.  They sent the local float planes over to strafe us.  That is not a pleasant experience, since you cannot see anything until the plane opens fire, and then it is gone in to the darkness again.  We never fired a shot at them, couldn’t ever see them.  Fortunately, the Japs saw the light, and believed that they were lights leaking from our ships, and fired on them.  Still, they were persistent, and we had to keep on closing the beach.  After a few runs of that sort, it became light enough to see, and we made good use of our ammunition.  We had to.  Some of their bombs came so close that we had spray from them.  Nasty way to treat guests. 

            We were lucky enough to leave that night, but two of our craft had to stay.  The Japs decided that they were going to sink them, and sent five planes over to do the trick.  Four of them crashed, one disintegrating right over one of the ships and carrying away part of an antenna.  The ships escaped injury, except for their frayed nerves, and bruises obtained from quick trips to the deck.

            We were also involved in the invasion of Bataan (Mervelles Bay) and later at Corregidor.  You have seen pictures of the island, and know that it rises out of the Bay to heights of about two hundred feet, and many of its shorelines are precipitous cliffs.  The shore of Bataan was heavily wooded, and hills reached right down to the shoreline, providing good cover for guns placed behind them.  

            The cliffs of Corregidor were honeycombed with caves, many of which had swinging steel doors which would open for a few shots, and then close.  The island had been bombed vigorously before we arrived, and was bombed while we spent three days or more sweeping.  Still, many of the guns were untouched, and we were welcomed to the tune of their firing — at us.  Of course, it was impossible to place the larger guns in caves, so we did not have to worry about them.  But six- and eight-inch guns were large enough for us.  As you may have read, they did get one small minesweeper. 

          Regardless, our orders read to sweep, and sweep we did.  We were close enough to use our three-inch gun, and our boys were hitting the mark when we crossed the hundred rounds mark.  One of our shells went right into the mouth of a cave from which some of the enemy shells had been coming, and most of the crew are convinced that our fire silenced that gun.  I won’t say. 

            Finally, the planes landed the paratroops with their multi-colored parachutes.  That was quite a sight.  It was necessary to land them on a small piece of level ground which terminated abruptly in a 200 foot cliff.  To miss would mean to drop them to their certain death.  To enable the planes to come in low, the area had been thoroughly bombarded by the ships lying off shore.  And low the planes came in, dropping their cargos just high enough to enable their parachutes to open safely.  The operation was carried through with such skill that only two or three men were lost due to dropping over the cliff.

            Meanwhile, we were busy sweeping up mines which had been left by our forces when they had surrendered, and others which the Japs strewed generously throughout the North and South Channels into Manila Bay.  Our division of minesweepers set a new world’s record for the number of mines swept in three days, in the first three days we operated there.  And while PT boats had been running through the bay at night quite a few days previous to the sweeping, we can say that we were the first ships inside Manila Bay since it was captured by the Japs.  All along the south shore of the bay the Army was fighting.

            After sweeping the channels, we left.  Other sweeps under the command of one of the senior officers of our division completed the sweeping of Manila Bay, enabling our ships to use the harbor.  The word we have from those sweeps and from Seabees who have been there, is that Manila is two-thirds destroyed.  All the downtown section and harbor is destroyed, together with over half the residential section.

            The town of Manila is wide open.  Rice beer and scotch are plentiful, if I can believe the reports.  The girls are dressing in their best, and attempting (very successfully) to make friends with the Americans.  For many of the soldiers this is the first city of any sort they have seen in 24 months or more.

            This is the first letter I have written since we received a notice of relaxation of censorship rules.  We can now tell about operations we have been in 30 days after they are completed, and tell details which have been announced in the papers.  Nimitz feels that the loss of security is more than made up in the increased morale of his men.  You have no idea how difficult it is to write an interesting letter home when all you are allowed to write about is the routine of shipboard life.  After these months aboard ship, I can see why sailors raise Cain when they do arrive in port.  The ceaseless monotony of watch after watch, doing the same things day after day, seeing the same ocean every day, builds up until you are willing to go ashore on a barren island just to feel mother earth under the feet.  I will say this about Navy life: you are always sure of a clean place to bunk down, fairly good food, and a freedom from insect pests.  Life ashore in the mudholes, which much of these islands are, is the worst sort of misery.

            I refuse to write another sheet, so I’ll close by wishing you the best of luck, and please give my best regards to our mutual friends, and your delightful family.