My Uncle Paul Winegar served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, stationed in Guam. One of his shipmates, H.R. Penrose M2/c, wrote the following poem, which Uncle Paul sent home to his family. Satan’s Dreamboat tells a story that only a seaman serving in wartime can truly understand. After reading the poem, the ship’s Chaplain had it published. Commented Uncle Paul, “It’s very true as far as it goes.”
I ask that the readers of this post be understanding of some of the language and characterizations. This was wartime, and men felt fear, bitterness, and unbelievable fatigue as they fought to keep us free. God bless the USA and those who defend her!
Come listen to the story that I’m about to tell.
It contains but little glory and an awful lot of hell.
It’s about a floating dry dock out on the western sea,
On which we worked around the clock to set the whole world free.
She was not a very pretty thing, her lines were square and true.
But, my friend, she was built that way for she had a job to do.
Now sit a little closer friend; clean out your ears and listen well,
For I’m about to take you through a little piece of hell.
This story I’m sorry, must exclude many things that even now
Are just a bitter memory, of that God-forsaken scow.
But, my friend, I’ll tell you, before I do forget
Of steaming, reeking mess halls and bed made soaking wet
By days and nights of driving rain, where there was no place to sleep as yet.
I could tell you of a lot of things that happened every day
But friend, I want to head for home when points enough I’ve made.
Of course, there was the “buggy” bread and wormy pancakes too
And mouldy beans and smelly meat, and apples rotted through,
And sweat dropping off the mess cook’s nose into our greasy stew.
There was cold iced tea and lemonade, made in most any blend,
Then poured in cups so piping hot they’d raise blisters on your hand.
Enough of that for now, my friend, there is more that I could tell,
But we want to travel a little more on this, our trip through hell.
Of course there is another side of this story to unfold
It’s about the smashed up ships we fixed while living in this hole.
We brought them in here in ones and twos; sometimes as many as seven,
And one day when the dock went down she came up with eleven.
They had gaping holes and torn sides caused by the ‘Kamikaze’
There were twisted shafts and missing screws that damn near drove us crazy.
And bolts that stuck. While in the muck of some ship’s filthy bilges,
We worked and slaved, and cussed and swore; heaved up our chow,
Then worked some more — for the job had to be finished.
Some ships came in with missing bows, there were sleek new ships and dirty scows;
There were battleships and LSTs; Liberty ships, carriers and APCs.
Cruisers, destroyers, and mine-sweepers too: each one meant a job to do.
Our deck was slimy, it always stank, as we put the ships in rank on rank.
And we worked in filth up to our necks, scraped from their bottoms to our decks.
And always and ever beneath our feet, was dirty water shoe-sole deep,
And welding lines, hydraulic jacks, come alongs – to take up slack
Air hose, water lines, and electric too; twisted, coiled, bent in two
That wrapped around unwary feet and added their misery to the heat.
Overhead, in the self-same vane swung the long-neck booms of heavy cranes,
Carrying on their thread like cables, a-frames, steel plate, welder’s tables;
Chain hoists, planks, and ammunition: spot lights, strong backs stern tube bearings:
All parts of ships we were repairing.
And then the noise of crane bells ringing;
The irritating chatter of air guns singing,
The P.A. system on all ships blaring,
The throaty roar of “Hog-burners” swearing.
And steady thump of hand swung hammers; and then, above the noisy clamor,
The boatswain’s whistle’s shrill demand for “Attention” from some ship’s “All hands.”
And, if by chance you should look up and do it not with care,
A leaking scupper on a “head” will nail you fair and square.
And then at night, when we could rest from the labor of it all,
The slant-eyed nestlings of the devil’s brood would drop in to pay a call
And shocked from dreams by the siren’s scream and the whitle’s throaty bellow,
We’d put out lights, dog hatches down, and pray that we weren’t yellow.
The hungry guns would sniff the air, waiting to bark and bite.
And while smoke pots burned, and the air they churned into a choking, gasping hell
We would wait, my friend, and waiting is one thing we do quite well.
But Tojo’s sons never reached our deck, we gratefully thank our God for that:
And while “all clear” sounded around the bay,
We’d head for our racks and hope to stay.
But we must stop often on the way to choke and cough and spit
For “blackout” smoke was in our lungs, and it damn well makes you sick.
Finally our narrow bunks we’d reach, there to roll and toss
Trying to sleep some “double time” to make up for what we lost.
No, we’re not complaining, friend; not for just one minute,
For we knew we had a job to do, and by the grace of God we did it.
Now all we ask of “Uncle Sam,” now that our job is done
Is to find a ship that’s homeward bound, for each and every one.
To take each one back to his old home town,
Where for the next ten years or more
He can forget this “Satan’s Dreamboat”
And what they built it for.