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The Catalina Islander
Avalon, California
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July 4, 2014     The Catalina Islander
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July 4, 2014
 

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Watson From page A1 steam engine for training engine crew. At Casino Point, where scu- ba divers nowadays casually dip beneath the sea's surface, there were 20mm anti-aircraft guns, 50-calibre machine guns and 3- inch and 5-inch artillery. And at the Field of Dreams where Ava- lon youths now kick soccer balls about, young merchant mariners trained in hand-to-hand combat. Charlie Pyle would have spent time at each of these locations. He would have eaten at Boos Broth- ers Cafeteria where Coney Island West now serves upburgers and hot dogs. He would have watched prize fights in the Avalon Theatre where people now watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters. But on the evening of July 2, 1944, Charlie Pyle was on the deck of the liberty ship S.S. Jean Nicolet somewhere in the Indian Ocean, carrying precious cargo from San Pedro to Calcutta for the Allied war effort. At 1907 hours, Charlie felt the first of two Japanese torpedoes strike his ship and it all, literally, went to hell from there. Charlie told his story in the De- cember 22, 1944, issue of "Mari- time Murmurs," the official Marl- time Service newspaper issued by the Avalon Training Station: "All hell and high water broke loose that day," he wrote. "I was on watch when the first torpedo hit, and what a bouncing!" In no time at all, seawater was pouring through the gashes in the hulls then over the rails as the wounded vessel listed. From there, the ocean began dashing about the decks and down the ladders like so many mischie- vous children searching for things to destroy. "I told my boys never to worry if we got it," wrote Charlie. "Each of us had certain things to do and we were all ac- quainted with them." Indeed, the men knew their jobs well. All of them got safely off the ship and were being picked up by the lifeboats. But the Japanese submariners weren't finished with them yet. "We were picking up a few other fellows when the submarine began firing on the ship. Then it came over to us and an officer or- dered us on board." The Allied seamen were then looted of all their valuables and even much of their clothing by the Japanese crew. Watches, money, pocket knives, even boots and jackets were taken from them. They then had their hands tied be- hind their backs and were savagely beaten, the first of many beatings that some of them wouldn't sur- vive. Just to show the Americans what fate awaited them, a 17-year- old messman from Pennsylvania named William M. Musser was marched to the bow of the sub- marine where a laugh- ing Japanese crewman bludgeoned him with a steel pipe, shot him in the head and then un- ceremoniously booted his lifeless body over- board. Jim Watson After an initial Columnist drubbing, the liberty ship crew was all forced to sit bent over forward on the sub's foredeck. Occasionally, waves broke over the deck washing some of the men into the sea. None of these men were seen again. In this bent-over position, the men were beaten some more, in- cluding Charlie Pyle. "I couldn't sit like this very long and after a couple of hours I straightened up. I really got bashed on the noggin for this." AVALON GRILLE GET HAPPY 4-6Pro DAILY *3 BEERS I *4 WlNE I $5 WELL COCKTAILS RESERVATIONS AT OPENTABLE.COM 310.510.7494 After several hours of these enjoyable activities, Charlie was finally gathered up by the Japa- nese crew and rough-handled aft toward the sub's conning tower. It seems the sub's crew had scared up a game of "running the gaunt- let" and Charlie was going to be one of the contestants. This "gauntlet" consisted of lines of Japanese crewmen on ei- ther side of the deck armed with pipes, clubs, rifles and swords with which they stabbed and beat their hapless captives. Those Ameri- cans who successfully navigated the gauntlet were rewarded at the end by a sumo-sized seaman who bayonetted them and heaved their lifeless bodies over the side, pitch- fork-style. It didn't take too many examples of this for the Americans to figure this game out. Halfway through the gauntlet, they began jumping overboard, depriving the madman of his fun. They decided it was better to take their chances in the sea with the gathering sharks and with their own hands tied behind their backs. Charlie Pyle was one of these guys. "I got bounced on the base of the skull and shoved down what later proved to be lines of Japs with clubs, pipes and swords. The daylight was really blasted out of me." After being treated like a "bouncing ball," Charlie struggled overboard into the sea and briefly passed out. When he came to, the sub was leaving, but Charlie was still tied up and didn't have a "damn thing" to keep him afloat. "Sure that I was dead, I tried to sink but couldn't. Next I tried go- ing down by drinking water. This also failed. After several futile at- tempts, I decided it wasn't my time yet." When the sun rose the following morning, July 3, the sub was gone and what few survivors remained were grouped together and began untying each other. Most of the men were bleeding to some degree or other and the waters around them were filled with sharks and stinging Portuguese man o'wars. "All morning and during the early afternoon we swam," wrote Charlie. Ironically, it was one of our Island's namesakes--a PBY Cata- lina seaplane--that first spotted the survivors. Shortly after the first torpedoes hit the ship, radio operator Augustus "Gus" Tilden had sent sent a distress call and the U.S. Navy had been looking for them ever since. "We were dropped rubber pre- servers so (we) floated around for a couple of hours until I was able to climb aboard a rubber donut with six other fellows," wrote Charlie. The men stayed aboard the raft all night, although the raft sprung a leak about midnight. The following, day, more PBY Catalinas and a rescue ship showed up and finally picked up the remaining 24 survivors. "When I finally was rescued," wrote Charlie, "I found I had my head cut open in three places. "Being finally picked up by one of our ships made that day truly the happiest July Fourth I ever ex- pect to have." Basketball Camp with Sterling 'Smooth' Forbes Sterling "Smooth" Forbes Annual Basketball Camp is July 14-18. The camp is directed by the former Harlem Globetrotter and a qualified staff of experienced bas- ketball coaches and players. The fee is $150. The Camp is tailored to meet the needs and develop- ment of each camper. There is .a 10-1 camper ta instructor ratio, and instructors are experienced in teaching both boy and girls of various skill levels. Divisions are split into lst- and 2nd-grade, 3rd- to 5th-grade, then 6th- to 8th-grade. For more information or to sign up, come to City Hall and register. Or call David Hart at 310-510 0220 ext.231 t; ,. -). EVERY MONDAY & TUESDAY 11AM- 3PM JULY 7- AUGUST 26 Featuring work from local artists and photographers: JULY 7 & 8 JULY 28 & 29 AUGUST 18 & 19 Kirsten Olson Maryana Espe Wagor Irene Horiuchi - Alfred Tse Carolyn Ryden Ying Liu ,l: Kelly Skoff JULY 14 & 15 AUGUST 4 & 5 Tatyana Fogarty AUGUST 25 & 26 Esther Williams , Fay Wyles Laurie Hendricks Linda Gunn L Fiona Pn ,,,,'" . JULY 21 &22 "  ' - - Mark Fehlman AUGUST 11 & 12 Eddie Yerkish Jim Wodark Linda Lawler 1 '! 5d/r fl T WtTE RAVE iilt ' V S TCATAL NA STAND COM AIO i Friday, July 4, 2014 THE CATAUNA ISLANDER