The Truman Year
My Life in the U. S. Navy, 1948 - 1953

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The Truman Year / Ephemera / USS ESTES AGC-12 / 1st Anniversary - Events

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About seven years after work was begun constructing her, the USS Estes was recommissioned and added to the amphibious forces of the pacific.  For a year and a half before the recommissioning the Estes sat idly in mothballs, a 7,000 ton hulk of cold steel with gradually decaying fittings.

After notable service in two World War II battles, followed by duty in the Far East, the Estes was decommissioned in the summer of 1949 and might have remained for-ever in the Pacific Reserve fleet if the Korean war had not started. Originally planned as & merchant vessel, the Estes was commissioned as a communications ship at Brooklyn in the autumn of 1944.  From the East coast the Estes made her way through the Panama Canal into the Pacific where she took part in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

On the day after Christmas, 1950, the first workmen came aboard the Estes, as she sat in her San Francisco Naval Shipyard berth, to begin the difficult job of restoring the ship to an operating condition.  The task was discouraging, for nearly everything aboard was in a state of decomposition. For the next two months the ship's company slowly assembled, a group at first remarkable for its heterogeneity. The mixture of reserves and regulars was approximately equal.

With most of the mothballs cleared away the Estes was recommissioned on 31 January, 1951, at Hunter's Point. In a ceremony aboard the ship, Rear Admiral Ross Cooley, Deputy Commander, Pacific Reserve fleet, presented command of the ship to Captain R. W. Wood. Some of the unsalty reserves, as well as the new boots,  found the ceremony that involved "piping aboard", "ruffles and flurishe5", and  "setting the watch" a confusing business.  A considerable amount of work still had to be done before the ship could get underway, however, and it was 19 February when the Sates pulled away from the dock on her own power for the purpose of calibrating the magnetic compass.

Orders came to the Estes on 19 March from ComPhibPac for the ship to relieve the Mt. McKinley (AGC-7) in July.  At the time the Mt. McKinley was operating in Japanese and Korean waters. But it was another month and a half before the ship was ready to leave the naval yard at Hunter's Point and report to San Diego for underway training prior to going overseas.

The Estes left San Francisco on 4 May, arriving in San Diego two days later--a two day period of drills and exercises.   For the next three weeks the crew and officers went through a strenuous program of schooling and drills, climaxed on 26 May by the final battle problem given by an amphibious training group.  Graded by departmental efficiency, the ship received an overall mark of "good".

From fantail to forecastle the ship was humming with activity in preparation for Rear Admiral F. X. McInerney's inspection.  Shoes were shined until they reflected the worried faces of the frightened "boots". Uniforms were cleaned and brushed until immaculate and hats were scrubbed until they sparkled.  On 15 June the inspection party boarded the ship.  Admiral McInerney declared the ship and men, as a whole were ready for duty.  The relieved crew now anticipated getting underway for overseas duty.

A day before sailing TacRon 5 reported aboard, assigned to the Estes by ComPhibPac.  On 20 June, after six months of preparation, the Estes pulled away berth in San Diego Naval Station with orders to proceed to Yokosuka, Japan, first in San Francisco to pick up passengers. During those six months of ready, ship alterations were made, modern gear was installed, and the entire side and out, was freshly painted.

All sorts of forces seemed to be working against the Estes actually getting to Japan. After picking up passengers in San Francisco and being one day at sea, one of the officers became seriously ill, making a return to San Francisco necessary. The officer was disembarked at Fort Mason in the Bay (he later rejoined the ship in Japan), then the Estes headed to sea again. But the next day AdComPhibPac orders diverted the ship to Pearl Harbor for deperming. Because of arriving on Saturday afternoon, the ship had to wait until Monday, 2 July, to be depermed.  Hardly anyone, with the exception of those who were waiting to be relieved, minded spending several days on Oahu. Deperming accomplished, the ship attempted to get underway on 3 July, but a breakdown in the circulation system forced cancellation of the departure until the following day. Eleven sailing days later the Estes tied up at Yokosuka in Tokyo Bay.

A week later the Rates sailed for Inchon Korea. But during that week of Yokosuka liberty many persons aboard made great strides toward becoming "Asiatic". Nearly everyone had at least a small vocabulary of elementary phrases, and a majority could whistle and sing the popular Japanese songs.  Komatsu's was undoubtedly the Estes headquarters ashore.

On 25 July, four days after leaving Yokosuka, the Estes arrived in the island-sprinkled harbor of Inchon, having steamed around Kyushu. The Mt. McKinley had already returned to the States, leaving the USS Eldorado (AGC-11) as the only communications ship in the Far East. Shortly after the Estes gently slid alongside the Eldorado in Inchon harbor and lines were secured, Vice Admiral T. N. Kiland, Commander Amphibious Forces, Pacific fleet, and his staff transferred to the Estes.

Inchon was oppressively hot. The heat seemed to hold and intensify the battered city's  foul odor.  An earlier ship's instruction against eating "indigenous foods" was unnecessary, for no one had any inclination to sample Korean vegetables that were fertilized with human manure. With little to do other than wander along dusty streets looking in empty shops, ship's company either stayed aboard or drank rationed warm beer while watching the Estes softball team play the USS Epping Forest (LSD-4).  Day after day the Estes and Epping Forest played each other.

Finally, on 2 August, the ship got underway again, and four days later tied up in Yokosuka.  In a change that might unofficially be called "Operation Back and Forth", ComPhibPac and staff switched to the Eldorado again and returned to San Diego. On the l7th of August Rear Admiral T. B. Hill, Commander Amphibious Group One brought his flag aboard the Estes. After a month's stay in Yokosuka, the ship got underway for Pusan on 6 September, going by way of Shimonoseki Straits--the narrow channel between Honshu and Kyushu.  The trip required two days.

Three days after arriving in Pusan the ship was underway again for Inchon. Nearly as hot and just as odorous as in July, Inchon was a good place to leave on 17 September, after five days of being anchored in the harbor.

On the 19th of September the Estes tied up in Moji, on the Kyushu side of Shimonoseki Straits.  The next day all hands observed a somber ceremony honoring those killed in the Korean war, whose bodies were being loaded aboard the S. S. Exmouth for shipment to the States.

Still in Yokosuka on 8 October, Rear Admiral C. F. Espe relieved Rear Admiral T. B. Hill as Commander Amphibious Group One and Commander Task Force 90 in ceremonies on the forward boat deck. Four days later the Estes left for Mukawa, Hokkaido, for the purpose of a landing exercise.  The Estes anchored off the Mukawa beaches on 15 October, having stopped in Muroran, Hokkaido, the day before to allow Brigadier General Dulaney, Assistant Commander of the 45th Infantry Division, to come aboard.  The general's troops were to take part in the landing exercise, which was postponed until 17 Oct., because of rough seas created by Typhoon Ruth.

The Estes hoisted anchor on the l8th and steamed a course for Sasebo, Kyushu, by way of the Japan Sea. Far from a pleasant cruise, the trip was devoted primarily to drills in preparation for the annual operational readiness inspection. Captain Lamb, Commander Transport Division 13, and his staff of observers came aboard the morning of 22 Oct., the day the Estes arrived in Sasebo, and the ship headed to sea.  Upon returning to Sasebo on the 23rd, Capt. Lamb awarded the ship an official  grade of "Good" for the inspection.  At sunset the following day the Estes cleared the submarine nets guarding Sasebo's harbor and headed for Inchon.

By this late in the autumn the weather was much cooler in Inchon. Remaining only two days, the ship anchored on 26 October, and left the 28th, bound for Pusan. Underway again on 1 November, this time bound for Yokosuka, the Estes arrived on Sunday, 3 November, having come by way of Shimonoseki Straits. By now the sharper wits aboard were declaring that the USS preceding the ship's name stood for "Underway Saturday and Sunday", for it seemed that the ship invariably arrived or departed on the weekend.

During the next few days nearly everyone haunted ship's service and PX facilities around Yokosuka and Tokyo to find Christmas presents to send home. Mailmen aboard the Estes were swamped with heavy boxes of china and other bulky packages.  On the 13th the ship left Yokosuka for Mukawa to take part in another landing exercise. A Regimental Combat team of the 45th Infantry Division was to be transported to the beaches and this time, as previously, rough seas caused postponement.  On Sunday, the 18th with exercise in progress, the ship hoisted anchor and steamed for Yokosuka, arriving the morning of 20 November. The reason for the hasty return was supposedly to allow Adm. Espe to attend a planning conference. Many aboard thought that the developments of the UN-Communist armistice talks might have provoked the conference. Since mid-summer the talks had been dragging on, apparently with little progress.

Evidently no drastic revisions were made at the planning conference for Estes deployment, for on 23 November the ship arrived in Nagoya.  The day before ship's company had stumbled to special sea details following a sumptuous Thanksgiving day dinner and managed to get the ship underway for Nagoya. Remaining in Nagoya until Monday, 26 November, the ship left for Kure, Honshu, the headquarters for British naval units operating in Japanese and Korean waters.  It was amusing to hear the Japanese in Kure speak English with a British accent and in the British idiom.  While the ship was still in Kure, the carrier, HMAS Sydney tied up across the dock, and Estes and Staff officers found the British custom of having "grog" aboard most convenient and hospitable, while men on liberty found the Australian sailors to be a match for themselves in any endeavor.  On 1 December (Saturday), the ship put out to sea bound for Inchon, having been in Kure since 27 November.

The Estes dropped anchor in Inchon harbor on 3 December where it remained until first light on the 7th. While there everyone aboard contributed to a party fund for Korean orphans, and nearly everyone attended the party that was given for the children. Before sunrise on the 7th, the Estes, in company with transports and screening units of task force 90 steamed from the harbor with several thousand men of the 1st Calvary Division, who were being rotated to a rear area. Leaving the company near Pusan, the Estes proceeded through Shimonoseki Straits and tied up in Yokosuka 11 December.

For the next month the ship remained in Yokosuka and all hands were given the privilege of enjoying "Rest and Recreation" at various resort hotels throughout Japan. A Christmas attitude was most apparent; mailmen again were swamped with Christmas packages addressed for the states, and the ship was decorated inside and out. At night the Estes and the USS Rochester (CA-124), tied up just across the pier, made bright displays with their colored lights and Christmas trees.  Christmas afternoon a group of Japanese orphans came aboard for a party in the crew's mess at which they were given presents, shown movies and offered a good deal more food than they could eat.

But the holidays ended on 7 January, 1952, when the Estes left Yokosuka for Inchon.  On the 10th, a day messy with fog, rain and snow, the ship arrived at Inchon. Underway again on 14 January, the Estes anchored in a pretty harbor at Koje Do, an island near Pusan where more than 150,000 North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war were held.  The next day the ship got underway, arriving in Nagasaki, Kyushu, on 18 January.

It was surprising to those aboard that the city--where six and a half years ago 75,000 people were killed in the atomic blast--should be so friendly. No one noticed any resentment.  Two days later--days of tours and parties--the Estes departed for Sasebo, passing beneath the house of the legendary Madam Butterfly, who supposedly knifed herself when Lt. Pinkerton returned to Japan, but with an American wife.  Only four hours of steaming later, the Estes arrived in Sasebo, Sunday afternoon, 20 January.

Hoisting anchor on 23 January, the ship proceeded to Korea, where it ended its first year of reactivation along the east coast of that unhappy and smashed country. During the year the ship served its function well, though never engaging in any spectacular action.  Its crew and the staff aboard did, however, receive an excellent education on leading Japanese cities that more than compensated for the routine nature of the work.

source: 1st Anniversary of U.S.S. ESTES AGC-12, 31 January 1952 booklet

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