A Voyage across Oceans to the Other Side of the World

 

The men of the 198th Regiment departed the Port of Charleston and set sail for their journey on the 26th of January, 1942. Many of the enlisted Soldiers had no idea that they were heading to the Pacific island of Bora Bora until just before their arrival. On board, they were forced to sleep in cramped berthing compartments with bunk beds four tiers high. In contrast, the ranking officers in command knew their Area of Operations, that is, where their mission was headed. They enjoyed some of the amenities and privileges of rank, such as private rooms. The heat of the ship could be unbearable in the tropical seas and so Soldiers slept on the open decks, instead of within the ship. As they sailed further out to sea, they also had to ration drinking water. All the while, they were on high alert for Japanese submarine attacks, though none came. They made it to Bora Bora after a three-week voyage marked by a mix of fear, boredom, and play.

To celebrate the crossing of the equator, the men joined Sailors in the King Neptune initiation ceremony. During this playful event, the men gargled with a mouthwash of castor oil and creosote. Then they covered themselves in coffee grounds and grease, before dunking in a pool of water. After accomplishing these feats, they joined the Order of Neptune, which distinguished them as having crossed the equator in a Naval vessel. Credit: “Neptune at the Equator,” ca. 1942. Photographer unknown. Delaware Military Museum Archives.

The USS Alchiba was one of six ships that became home for the men of the 198th Regiment during their three week voyage to Bora Bora. These ships were often repurposed freighters from previous military or civilian service. Credit:  “The USS Alchiba,” 1940s. Black and white photograph, photographer unknown. Delaware Military Museum Archives

 

These letters home from an enlisted man and an officer reveal the contrasting experiences according to rank onboard the ship.

 

S.B.I. Duncan, Lieutenant Colonel, letter home to his wife and kids, 1942.

"Ship got underway about 3:30 having been without sleep or rest for 48 hours. It was a

relief to get some rest. Ship is a good ship. My quarters are excellent. I have one of the

best on the boat and a room for an office next door."  Credit: Letter, S.B.I. Duncan to XXX, 1942.  Delaware Military Museum Archives.


 

Louis Hester to XXX, Private, 1942. 

"At last we went up the gangplank and were assigned to quarters in the hold. Two flights down. The passageways were narrow and I thought I was in a dungeon. The goddamn place made me sick. Four bunks high, lines of them, and no room to move around. It looked like hell, and the voyage was HELL!" Credit: Letter, Louis Hester to XXX, Private, 1942. Delaware Military Museum Archives.