USS Fremont APA-44

The Recollections of Cecil R. Bronnenberg

This is a true and accurate account about the 28 months I served aboard the USS. Fremont APA-44 during World War II. I loved the Fremont and served her and my country very proudly. The Fremont played a major role in helping win the war in the South Pacific.

In 1943, after graduating from basic training at Great Lakes, and taking 16 weeks training at Great Lakes Storekeeper's School, I was assigned to the Fremont. Michael J. Corbett and I traveled to Philadelphia Naval Base to begin assembling GSK supplies along with Chief Warrant Officer Reece Luki and Storekeeper Clark Palmer Zitzman of Rutherford, New Jersey.

When we finished our assignment in Philadelphia, we went to Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, to meet up with the "Great Lady" and other crew members and continue putting supplies together and getting settled in.

The Fremont made several "shake down" cruises in Chesapeake Bay. Captain Conlan was tough as nails. He was little but mighty - an Annapolis man. Commander Howe was the Executive Officer and Commander Fitzgerald was the Chief Engineer.

The Supply Department was headed by Commander Ross, Lt. McCullough, Lt. JG. Kurtz, Warrant Officer Reece Luki, Corbett, Russell, Bowers, Zitzman, Bowen, Knost, Wayne, Hardy, Bronnenberg, and others. Commander Griswold succeeded Ross at much later date. Oh yes, add Adrian J. Semelsberger, from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to the Storekeepers list.

When the crew and ship were ready we headed for the Pacific Theater of War. I remember sailing through the rough waters off Cape Hatteras and by passing Cuba and then going through the Panama Canal. That experience was something! We stopped at Colon overnight and took aboard 100 stalks of bananas. One crew member helping load was bitten by a banana spider.

Any time we loaded supplies, it was "all hands on deck" and the crew lined up and passed supplies from hand to hand. When this happened, the crew had some choice words for Storekeepers.

From the Panama Canal, the Fremont headed for Hawaii. The first thing we sighted was Diamond Head. What a sight! The entering of Pearl Harbor was very somber because of the bombing on December 7, 1941.

There we met up with the task force to begin the assault on Saipan and Tinian. While at Saipan, one 3rd Class Storekeeper from the Fremont was to be assigned to the beach while the battle was in progress. That had me worried because I wasn't that much of a hero. They chose Adrian J. Semelsberger, Altoona, Pennsylvania. Understood later that he came through the ordeal in good shape. Bet he had some scary moments! Later in the war, the B29 Enola Gay, took off from the Tinian Air Strip to atom bomb Japan.

Next, the invasion of the Phillippines at Leyte in Lingayen Gulf was the most memorable of all and perhaps the turning point of the war. The APA-44 was the Flag Ship in Lingayen Gulf and she remained there for 30 days. Thus, the two stars in the Philippine Liberation Bar. The flag consisted of Adm. Feckler and his staff.

The Fremont was there when General McArthur went ashore with his corn-cob pipe. The common sailor and soldier didn't care for General McArthur.

We saw many small landing craft go down by kamikaze hits. The Japs controlled the skies, but when the P38's and the Blackwidow Night Fighter finally arrived, things turned around. I remember shedding some tears of delight when the first P38 flew overhead.

There were many scary moments during the invasion. I remember the day seeing PT Boats heading out to sea - one after the other - all day long. Later we learned that the Jap fleet had been spotted closing in. Adm. Feckler radioed Adm. Bull Halsey, Commander 7th Fleet, "Situation Desperate" and he sent back the message "Relax." "Bulldog" Hasley was up around Formosa 400 miles away looking for the Jap fleet. The group of baby flat tops was sent in one direction to get away but ran right into them. Needless to say, the Jap fleet had a "hey day." We took on many survivors as did many ships. After being in saltwater and hot sun for many hours does not create a pretty sight. Seeing men in "shell shock" leaves a lasting memory. War is hell and ugly.

Don't recall or even know how the Jap fleet was defeated, but that would make a real war story.

The Fremont was submitted for the Presidential Citation but not awarded. Should have been. She really earned her worth for her efforts at Leyte.

We went to GQ many, many times and fired on Jap planes quite often. We were tired, proud, afraid, and weary, but were proud and stood tall. The smoke screen machine had a good work out.

Sometime later we regrouped and headed for Luzon. I recall one night the Fremont went dead in the water and the convoy sailed on. Commander Fitzgerald worked like hell to get the Fremont fired up again. Don't know the problem but the one hour delay was anxious. We caught up later that night.

The next day at high noon we went to GQ. All of a sudden a Jap Zero came out of the sun and dropped two bombs aimed at the ship on port side. I can still see the two bombs fall harmlessly into the ocean to the stern. As the Zero attempted to fly away, our number one 40's opened up and scored a direct hit. Trailing smoke, the Zero dived into the transport due port. About a dozen men gave their lives, but the ship kept its course. That was my most frightening moment of the war.

When the Fremont departed the Philippines, she sailed through the same water as the Indianapolis a week later. We were unescorted but did practice zig zag maneuvers.

Sometime later we participated at Palau Islands. We stood off and watched them shell the island. Boy do those battle wagon big guns make a noise!!! When the troops went ashore the Japs had already pulled out. Nothing but coconut trees. The native chief's daughter was injured in the shelling and was treated on one of the naval ships. I never heard the outcome. Later we went ashore for a beer party. Each received two cans of 3.2 beer. The Fremont always carried 100 cases for just such occasions. The beer was kept in the storeroom below the crew's mess hall.

Iwo Jima was next on the assault horizon. That was a tough battle! The enemy was dug into a mass of honeycombed caves. It took hand to hand, flame throwers, and jelly bombs to route them out. I saw the first B29 land on the airport while they were still fighting for it. The plane was crippled from a bombing raid over Japan.

The wind blew the smell of death out to sea. That's one horrible experience - never forget it. After leaving Iwo Jima, we headed to Guam. Another B29 ditched in the ocean nearby. One ship in the convoy tried to tie on a wire cable and pull it to port but to no avail. Some Navy guns shot up the plane until it sank.

Now for some odds and ends, but not in the order they occurred.

* The Fremont ran aground during a typhoon when the anchor slipped during a stop over in New Guinea. It took two to three tugs to pull her free. No damage done.
* When the war ended, the Fremont was in San Francisco. After the war the Fremont was assigned to the "Magic Carpet" and went to Nagoya, Japan, to return a load of soldiers to the States. We had a half day of liberty into the city, that was a very unique experience.
* At one time, Admiral Blandy became the Flag Commander aboard the Fremont. He later was in charge of the atom bomb research on Eniwetok Atol in the Marshall Islands. I remember the swimming party there on the way to Leyte. They lowered a boat manned by an officer with a gun to ward off shark attacks. I remember diving off the deck and landing on the back of my neck. When I finally came up, my swim was over, very stupid!
* One time in Hawaii, I gave President Roosevelt a snappy salute as his limo drove by. His son was assigned to the Fremont as an Aide to Admiral Blandy.
* On one occasion while sailing between Hawaii and the States, we encountered the aftermath of a tidal wave that traveled between Alaska and Hawaii. Much damage was done in Hawaii and the Navy lost many smaller craft. That was in 1945. The Fremont rode out waves 35 feet high. The Fremont would ride up a swell and then the bottom would drop out. She came down with a thunderous bang! The old 44 shivered, shook, groaned, and bent, but rode it out. This lasted many hours. What a ride! Seasickness was the uniform of the day. I remember one sailor lying on the deck with green liquid running from his mouth.
* After being away from the States for sixteen months, the Fremont sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. Tears came into my eyes. What a sight of joy! We were met with tugs spraying volumes of water into the air.
* The Fremont was scheduled to go on the invasion of Okinawa but went to New Caledonia instead. Don't know why the change in plans. Two of my older brothers, Cletis and Paul, were in on that invasion. Another brother, Pete, was also in the Navy.
* I remember when Captain Conlan fell down the stairs and broke his arm.
* The Fremont had a huge celebration when crossing the equator for the first time. Life Magazine had photographers aboard. Becoming a "shellback" was quite an honor.
* At one time, the Fremont docked at the Bremerton Naval Base for major overhaul on the radar system. After that, the Fremont was equipped with more radar than any other APA in the Navy.
* At one point after the war the Fremont was used to house FBI Agents and other security in Miami during a National Political Convention.
* While returning from Japan via the Northern Route I had my tonsils removed. The ice cream afterwards sure tasted wonderful.
* The Fremont encountered many typhoons in the South Pacific.
* I remember seeing a bullet strike in the deck near the fantail. Looked like a 50 caliber.
* Movies and church services were held on the fantail.
* While in New Guinea I remember the huge billboard that read, "Kill Japs. Kill More Japs. Kill The Yellow Bastards." Admiral Bull Halsey, 7th Fleet Commander.
* Yeoman Bonner was a good friend of mine.
* All of you who came aboard later can be very proud of your efforts, but you would have had to get permission to carry our "ditty bags."
* When we first moved to Tennessee in 1980, we rented a house from Joe Hawkins in Woodbury, Tennessee. Joe had served aboard the Fremont after the big war. Isn't this a small world!
* One of the amusing parts of the war was listening to Tokyo Rose over the intercom every day. Whatever happened to her?
* I remember shooting basketball hoops at the bottom of the hole just in front of the super- structure.
* One time during the war I put several cases of 3.2 beer in the milk cooler for next days beach party and during the night someone broke the lock and had themselves a "night-time party." Probably those electricians. Next day Captain Conlin and all the brass were like a nest of mad hornets. Never did solve the case - the evidence went overboard.
* I remember one time during the war we ran short of toilet paper. The Executive Officer sent a memo to all hands to use only two sheets per wipe. Don't know how he enforced that.
* Poker games were banned but I guarantee you the fun didn't stop.
* I remember being on the head phone look out watch on the bridge one night and fell asleep standing up. Some Lt. on watch woke me up and said, "Don't let the Captain catch you." Captain Conlan would have strung my ass up to the Crow's Nest.
* I remember pay day at sea and that raised morale. The $2 bills were interesting. Lt. Kurtz was the Paymaster. There was a large safe in the supply office.
* When we were in the Philippines we went to GQ so often that we slept in our clothes in the office. We would line up 4-5 chairs and sack out.
* They wanted to make me Chief Storekeeper if I would re-enlist after the war, but civilian life called and I couldn't resist. I was honorably discharged in 1946 and attended Ball State in Muncie, Indiana (BS in '49 and Masters in '54). My work was in education for 31 years (28 years as Elementary Principal).
* In the South Pacific the commissary used to sift the flour for weevils, needless to say some ended up in the bread. After a while we didn't care - just ate bread and weevils.
* One time while in San Francisco I sneaked a small puppy aboard. Finally gave it to the ship's Barber, Gonzalas and he took it home.
* The South Pacific was full of interesting sights: flying fish, porpoises, sharks, whales, and beautiful sunsets. I've seen the Pacific as smooth as glass and as angry as a raging bull.
* We had pretty good food aboard but it was always a treat to get the c-rations from the soldiers.
* I was on good terms with Captain Conlan's cook (Mendoza) and at times ate as well as the Captain. And we always had a hot plate in the storeroom.
* When' went ashore at Palau talked to a native named Jhon Luga.
* While ashore in New Guinea I saw this huge lizard on a jungle trail. The undergrowth was alive with parrots and the mud trails were full of wild pig tracks.
* I want to say a belated thanks to Commander Griswold for his guiding influence on my life.
* The Fremont was a great ride. I loved that ship!
* I must mention Chief Bos'n Mate Gore who ran the deck. He was a "true Navy" man and boy was he good.

Cecil R. Bronnenberg SK1/c 863-59-44

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