So moving forward to the trip to Malta, and on that trip, so many things went on. We had to turn the rudder manually as we had lost our after steering.
I was a part of the team, and it amounted to turning the capstan that was connected to the rudder with nothing but brute strength. That rudder didn’t want to go, and we were working against a lot of opposition, but we got it done. We tuned the rudder, when we were told, by orders from the bridge. We were slow in answering, and so in inspecting our wake, after I was relieved, I found that it looked very familiar to a snake, slithering across the Med. So in the first hours of our trip, we probably doubled the distance we had to travel. Thank God for the USS Davis, which came along side us, the following morning. I was on the fantail when she came over the horizon, like an angel walking on the water. Help had finally got there, and still, yes still, we were afloat.
Now I know why the old time worn clique, “There are no atheists in foxholes”. I understand that in depth. I meant a man who was a Medal of Honor winner right here in Sheridan, Wyoming, many years ago. I am trying to recall his name. I think it was Mitchell Paige. He heard my testimony in our church, and the miracles that occurred that day. He sat me down, and looked me right in the eye, and said, “Ron I believe every word you said, and I mean everything”. He was a Colonel in the Marine Corps, and believe me it was very healing to hear him say that. What happens in combat, and how one survives, is almost a story that is impossible to tell, without someone thinking you need a strait jacket. I will be telling this story to another church on Veteran’s Day this year, and it is in Custer, South Dakota, almost in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. I am so happy, and honored to do this, especially in this place.
I cannot go into the body recovery very deep. I can only say that we had to recover twenty five of our shipmates. I compared it to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, as we looked for parts to try and make a body out of a torso, or a head that needed a body. I am not kidding about that, and my trauma doctor told me once, that the reason I couldn’t remember, was because the brain will not record such horror. I am not sure if I buy that one, simply because I am acutely aware that some situation, some place in time, the right circumstances might just bring it all back. I don’t want it to, but I feel that it could. So folks enough about the body recovery, as I know I did it, I knew I was the POIC in charge, and I did the job as best I could. When it was over, we were expected to go into these men’s lockers, retrieve their personal goods, and send them home. Another strange experience for me, but nothing like what I saw down below.
When we were done cleaning up the ship, we were allowed to fly home. We left Madrid one day, and arrived in New York City the same night. We came in as the last flight that evening, and it was because they wanted no reporters talking to us. We were threatened about talking, and warned what would happen. In my personal opinion, there is no man or woman on God’s green earth that could keep this inside, and try to do it, until their own demise happens. My first wife will tell you, my second will tell you, and my third will tell you, what it was like living with a man like me. I will say right here, that I loved this nation too much to never say anything, I loved your family, and mine, and most of all I wanted our kids to grow up in complete happiness as I did. The fifties were great for me.
By Mr. Ronald Kukal