|On the left is then Seaman 2nd Class Robert "Bob" Wise, while on
the right is Seaman 2nd Class Ben Libassi, both of the USS Bush. The sailor in
the center of the picture is Chris Mathewson, who was serving aboard an aircraft
carrier. Chris is the first cousin of Ben's then future bride.
Fresh from basic training, Bob and Ben were part of a group of 51 sailors that reported for duty aboard the USS Bush on May 19, 1944 while the Bush was undergoing repairs at Mare Island. This group of 51 all appear to have been brand new sailors, as all but one were rated Seaman 2nd Class or Fireman 2nd Class. During this period of time, a number of experienced USS Bush sailors were detached from the ship for other assignments while new sailors such as Bob and Ben came aboard.
Recalled Bob, "I made Seaman 1st Class in September 1944. There was an oral exam,
one on one with an officer and me. One of the questions asked I didn't have a
clue to the answer. What is a Sea Painter? I confessed that I didn't know. The
officer appeared more embarrassed than me .... He finally told me that a Sea Painter
was a line over the side of the ship to secure a small boat or punt for examining
or painting the side of the ship."
Both Bob and Ben were still aboard the USS Bush when she was lost in action against Japanese air forces (kamikazes) on April 6, 1945. At the time of the sinking Bob was 19 years old and Ben was 30. Because of his age, many of the younger crew referred to Ben as "Pappy".
After Bob abandoned ship on April 6, 1945, he joined a group of men that was hanging on to a punt or small boat which was capsized. Bob remembers, "There wasn't near enough room for all to cling directly to the boat, I found the end of a long line .... and hung on to it as did many others. I later realized that it was a Sea Painter."
|Bob notes that after it became dark some men became hysterical and began to swim for shore, some 70 miles away. These men were not seen again. Knowing that this could happen to him, he secured the line around his waist so that he would stay with the boat. As rescue by the LCS(L) 40 appeared eminent in the first hour of April 7th, Bob was not able to untie the line around his waist. It was too water soaked and his hands were too cold. Bob recalls, "I screamed for help and a shipmate, whose name I have forgotten, came back and managed to loosen the knot. I'm not sure but he may have had a pocketknife. That person lived in Bellefonte, PA. I have often thought about my friend from Bellefonte, the Punt and the Sea Painter, all of which saved my life."||
Very likely Bob's friend from Bellefonte, PA
|Meanwhile, Ben Libassi, also a Seaman 1st Class, found himself alone in the ocean, wearing a life jacket and clinging to a log. He would be in such a predicament for several hours. Finally, after missing him 2 or 3 times, Ben was rescued by the LCS(L) 37 at 0200 hours on April 7th. Ben remembers being brought aboard the ship and one the 37's crew commenting, "You see that fella over there? He wanted to jump in to save you and he doesn't even know how to swim." To which Ben replied, "We'd have really been in bad shape then. I can't swim either."|
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