Let’s Send the 268

Our 268 was laid down by the American Bridge Company at Ambridge, PA, November 26, 1942, launched June 6, 1943, boarded by the original crew pictured here August 6, 1943, on the day of her commissioning.  She plowed some furrows in the bottom of the Ohio that very dry Summer on her maiden cruise to New Orleans.

After some intensive breaching, withdrawal and gunnery exercises in the Gulf, she was ordered to Pearl Harbor via Key West, Guantanamo Bay and the Canal.  A thirty-six day voyage that included a great liberty in Balboa – 20 days at sea from the Canal to Pearl.

Over the next two years she may have been the most common American-made surface article sighted from the enemy-held Pacific Islands, taking part in the occupation of seven of them and stopping with supplies or calling for supplies as a score of others.

Her first mission was to deliver a cargo of 50-gallon drums of Hi-Test gasoline on shore for the occupation of Tarawa in the Gilberts (December 7-17, 1943).  Unable to breach due to coral shoals, natives were hired to help float the drums ashore.  During their short stay aboard, they were fascinated with our two electric water coolers, nearly floundered themselves with sugar water and were totally amazed with the function of the hoppers.  When we returned them to their homes and families, they sang and danced for us.  Their singing had a close and very pleasing harmony.

On the LST 268’s succeeding six missions, she carried first wave assault troops into the occupations of Roi Island, Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands (January 31 - February 8, 1944), Saipan (June 15 - 25, 1944), Tinian (July 16 - 28, 1944), in the Marianas, Peleiu Island (September 15 - 28, 1944), Luzon, the Northernmost island of the Philippines (January 3 - February 6, 1945), and Okinawa of the Ryukya chain (April 1 - 11, 1945).  The 268 was authorized bronze stars for participating in the capture and occupation of the above seven islands.

Other islands group seeing much of the 268 between invasions were the Ellice Islands, New Hebrides, Solomons, New Britain, Ulithi Atoll, Manus of the Admiralties and Leyte in the Philippines.

For a “large slow target” she survived unscathed for a lot of miles and days in enemy waters and her crew was aware of, and very appreciative of, the providence afforded them as their trying experiences molded them into a most efficient crew with a very close, caring relationship.

Though exposed many times to the hazards of war associated with forward areas, her closest approach to serious damage and casualties came on two occasions.  The first at Roi Island to which she had been ferrying supplies after the initial invasion.  While beached between LST 45 and LST 43, night raiding planes hit the ammunition dump just off her port bow.  The resulting heavy explosions rained shrapnel and burning debris upon her and only after pumping most of her precious fresh water over the side was able to retract at low tide.  In the morning we learned that the 45, still breached, carried a full cargo of high explosives and the 43, drums of gasoline.

The other near approach to disaster came as she was leaving Lungayan Gulf after the invasion of Luzon.  Our convoy was attacked by a formation of Kamikaze planes, one of which dove into the side of LST 700 directly forward of us, destroying her auxiliary engine room and engines.  The 268 subsequently towed her to Mindoro.  Another pilot of the formation singled out to the 268 as his target and was only seconds from success when our 20 and 40 mm rounds caused the plane to explode and crash into the sea a few years off our port side.  Engine parts from the plane scattered about the 268 were still around by the civilian workers months later in the Alameda ship yards.  Half of the exploding plane’s propeller landed on the weather deck, skidded into a raised air vent, was slowed and upended, striking and knocking down a man without injury.

In May of 1945 a glorious sight took shape as the Golden Gate appeared on the horizon.  In the Bethlehem Steel’s Alameda yard the 268 was outfitted with an evaporator, her main and auxiliary engines overhauled and the ship rigged to serve as a hospital evacuation ship when the Japanese home islands were invaded.  The 268 was once again ready for forward area action, her crew was more than ready to hear that the Japanese had accepted unconditional surrender and blessed peace was declared.

For 35 years no effort was made to convene the ship’s company that had experienced so much together and had once been drawn so much together and had once been drawn so close.  Fortunately, in 1980, Hugh and Dorothy MacDonald contacted enough men to host our first reunion at Port Huron, Michigan.  Twenty attended each with his own 35-year-old memories of exactly what happened where and when and just who did what.

Fortunately, John Goodman became our secretary-treasurer and has since been untiring in his efforts to compile and maintain an active list of more than 50 officers and men, an honor roll 32 deceased comrades and detailed statistics of our first and nine succeeding reunions which were held in Atlanta, GA, ’82; Columbia, MO, ’84; Wilkes-Barre, PA, ’86; Waco, TX, ’88; Kenniwick, WA, ’90; Silver Springs, FL, ’92; Memphis, TN, ’93; and in ’94 and ’95 in Kiamesha Lake, NY, at the Concord Hotel hosted both years by Charles and Rose Davis.  The 1995 attendees are pictured here.  John Goodman and Charles Davis were honored by the crew with gifts for their services.  Congratulatory messages were received from President William Clinton and General H. Norman Scwarzkhopf.

The spacious Concord’s offering of golf, swimming, tennis, exercise and dancing classes for the energetic few, more restful activities, games and great entertainment for the more quiet majority, and three gourmet meals each day in a private dining room, tempted by many to return for a third year but apparently it was time for the 268 ship’s company to get back to their roots – that is invading beaches.

Myrtle Beach is targeted for 1996, the beaching operation is to leisurely take place Sunday afternoon, October 27; friendly withdrawal scheduled for Wednesday the 30th with Grayling, MI, in our gunsights for 1997.

Author: Joseph George, EM 1/c

Originally printed in the LST Scuttlebutt – May/June 1996, page 13.