April of 1943 was a very interesting time for Strong. Early on, they sunk one sub and were instrumental in sinking another. Back in port, they had some time for beer, swimming and baseball. Wellings writes on April 19th:
“All is well out here in the Pacific. Things have been rather quiet the past few days. We have been in port and have taken advantage of the opportunity to do a million and one things that can’t be done underway. In addition it has given us an opportunity to send some of our men ashore in the afternoon on recreation parties. It is the only chance they have to get off the ship. Believe me they appreciate the opportunity. A swim – a ball game plus two bottles of beer (rationed) really appeals to the men. Now they realize how fortunate they were to have had all that time in New York. However morale is good. Some of our class who have been out here longer than we have, have made trips to Australia or New Zealand for overhaul and liberty. The idea being to give the boys a chance to see civilization again and get off the ships – Purely morale. Apparently the boys have a grand time. I only hope our turn comes around before I am detached because I would like to see something of Australia or New Zealand- preferably the former, while I am in the Pacific. Incidentally I have not heard anything from Bev of Personnel. I should be getting an answer to my letter within a few days. Mail has slowed down – none arriving during the past four days.”
But all of this togetherness in port has consequences. Some strain of a tropical flu was making the rounds, and in a port where you have men and ships coming in from areas all over the south Pacific, a warm humid environment and all that closeness makes for a great breeding environment. By the time the ship got underway again, the men of Strong were not immune to the illness, as he writes on April 25:
“Happy Easter to my little girls. Yes, here it is Easter Sunday and guess what – Instead of an Easter parade proceeded by mass here I am propped up in my bunk getting over a cold which gave signs of developing into the flu.
Our three day holiday was only a rest period for me. I began to cough a little plus a “plugged up” nose about noon of my birthday. We were conducting exercises outside the harbor and didn’t get secured until 2000 (8 am) when I promptly turned in, in order to avoid a bad cold or the flu – Tem normal yesterday, my sweethearts birthday found your little boy in his bunk all day drinking orange juice all day, taking his favorite APC pills and a good hot brandy prescribed by the doctor before going to sleep temp 100.0. At least I wrangled a drink out of the doctor and celebrated your birthday in addition to helping me get well. I have been in the bunk all day today (time 1500) but felt much better. Temp was normal this morning and the same at noon. I intend to take things easy and if my temp is normal again tomorrow I will get up for an hour or two. However I am going to take things easy at least for a few days. Gosh! I wish you were here to be my nurse. Remember what a poor patient I was? I am not really sick this time, I just thought I would try and prevent a real case of the flu. Apparently it has worked.
One reason for taking early and adequate precautions is that we have had what almost amount to an epidemic of flu on board during the past two weeks. Jetton, Hedrick, Trost, Fred Purdy and Wheeler all had mild cases within a period of two-three weeks. Jetton was in the bunk for a whole week. Wheeler is still in bed. He was a very sick boy. In addition at one time I had 14 of my enlisted men turned in with the flu. I isolated one of my small compartments, checked and rechecked the sterilization of all dishes and cooking utensils, aired bedding every day and held “field day” every day. We stopped it from spreading. We now have only three enlisted men on the sick list – out of 320. I guess in order to play no favorites it hit the captain. Incidentally it was the first cold I have had since leaving New York.”
In this letter, my uncle is mentioned by Wellings as one of the poor sufferers. The next time I see his name in anything written by the captain, is when he's written his account of sending Billy and Jetton below to destroy sensitive documents and equipment, and then never seeing either of them again. So I enjoy the references to his life at sea.
Hubby and I will be visiting Gettysburg soon, so it may be a couple weeks until I post again. We've always wanted to go to this historic place, and the time has presented itself. Really looking forward to getting steeped in the history there.
As always I am open to ideas and contributions from the families and others.