M. D. "Spiz" Hoffman tells of his naval experiences.
During the Second World War, I was a cook on a destroyer, the USS Hull. Our ship and crew had been through many battles with the Japanese, but the most memorable incident was a conflict with our arch-enemy Mother Nature's typhoon.
It was December 18, 1944; our fleet had been quietly sailing in the Pacific when storm clouds began to gather. Weather reports were seldom available to us. After several hours, the old ship began to rock, riding high on the waves. It would tip and become almost horizontal. It became evident that this was not an ordinary storm but a full-fledged typhoon.
The captain ordered the crew inside the ship. We could not reach the doors. Along with others I was thrown against the rails, then back against the ship. A sudden lunge of the old ship threw me - and most of the crew - overboard and far into the sea. I was covered with giant waves. Several times I sank, then came to the surface. I could see debris and shipmates all around me. I fought to keep my head above water. I rode the waves until I was exhausted. Then the winds became calmer, and I began to float. I was surprised that I was still wearing my life jacket.
I was floating when I noticed a comrade in the water nearby. We latched onto each other, and it was comforting to have someone with me. We clung to each other for several hours. I noticed that he became very still. He was dead. Hesitantly, I released him. I felt lonely, and many hours passed with no sign of survivors or ships. I knew that I was going to die.
I considered throwing away my life jacket; I knew that death would come quicker that way. I struggled to overcome the thought and continued riding the waves, but the thought persisted. When dark came, I unfastened my life jacket and threw it into the sea. I expected death to come swiftly, but it did not: I continued to float. After several hours, a mattress floated by. I grabbed for it and climbed on. Much to my surprise, it didn't sink. I gave in to my exhaustion, fell lifeless on the mattress, and I was soon asleep.
I was awakened by the noise of a ship. I looked up and saw the USS Taberer. The crew dragged my limp body onto their ship. I am sure that I did not look like a human being. I was discolored from the buffeting on the ship and red from sunburn. My lips were parched, and my eyes were almost swollen closed.
The crew helped me take a shower to wash off the saltwater. Then I was asked if I could eat some potato soup. I felt that I could have eaten anything! Nothing before or since has tasted as good as that cup of hot potato soup.
Following the storm, I learned that three ships had sunk in the typhoon. There had been some 800 naval personnel aboard them; only 18 had survived. It has been difficult to share this experience. I have only been able to speak of it the past few years. I am just thankful to be alive.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.