|K e n s m e n : 4 3 r d B o m b G r o u p (H), 5 t h A A F|
|Our days were being filled with
lifeboat drills, calisthenics, inspections, getting various
vaccinations and shots. We could walk around the Promenade, Main and
all the decks below where the men were rooming. The Bow, Stern Fan
Tail, Sun Deck and all areas where the crew were performing ship's duty
were off-limits. So I was able to explore and walk around the
Promenade. I soon found I had some Pine Bluff shipmates; Leroy
Spillyards and Max Mitchell were both with the 65th Squadron. We were
in high school at the same time and it was good to see them. A Major
Johnson, who was the commanding officer of an anti-aircraft artillery
outfit, came by to see me. This was an Arkansas National Guard outfit
that had been activated. They had guns set up around upper decks for
protection from aircraft. It was almost a daily occurrence to fire a
few rounds and it could get very noisy. Major Johnson proved to be a
good contact and a couple years later he and I would meet again under
very different circumstances.
The weather continued to get warmer and it was obvious that we were approaching the equator. We finally broke out the summer khaki uniforms. During an inspection, a Major from Headquarters was the inspector of the troops in summer uniforms. He stopped in front of me and said "This is a good-looking soldier. Why is he still a private?: I think this may have been influential in my first stripe.
During this time period, the Q.M. Daily was initiated. This US soldier-published newspaper was printed on board. This little newspaper brought the latest news and attempted to stop all the rumors. The troops also found that there was much talent on board and several stage shows were scheduled.
In the afternoon of March 5, we picked up two destroyers and knew that we would be stopping soon. The next morning we woke up in Rio De Janeiro! The port holes were opened and I released my bunk for several days. Boats of all kinds were circling the Mary and they all seemed to be crowded with beautiful people, especially girls! There was much yelling back and forth. It was much fun, but no one was allowed to depart. This was understandable for Brazil was a neutral country. Neutrality meant spies!
Rio is a beautiful harbor and city with several mountains in view. One of the most impressive was the one with the very large "Christ of the Andes" statue on the very top. At night, the statue was illuminated with multi-colored lights. Even though we could not touch, all of the guys were having a great time in Rio.
After two and a half days the Mary left harbor as if it were a speed boat. The Skipper had all power to the fire wall! It was rumored that a German sub entered the harbor with her. This proved to be false, but later it was learned that several submarines were making rapid progress to Rio due to spy active reporting the presence of the ship. A service ship was sunk just outside of the harbor the following morning. Evidently this was another close call of which the troops were not made aware. At this time we were approximately 500 miles due east of Rio and, even though we did not know it, we had escaped due to good intelligence.