Friday, December 29, 2017

The Takasago Maru

CAPTION:  1951. Sasebo, Japan. Deck-board view of the Takasago Maru, 
which saw frequent use shuttling American men and materiel to and from 
Pusan, South Korea.  Photo by Maj. Cecil B. White, courtesy of the Doug Price Flicker Site.

July 2, 1950.  Sasebo, Japan.  Seventeen-year-old Private Philip T. Hughes from Washington, D.C. was one of just under 2,000 men of the 34th Infantry Regiment who lined the dock in the pre-dawn hours.  He awaited his turn to file onto a narrow catwalk leading into the hold of a huge, white steamship.

The Takasago Maru was a Japanese-flag vessel, built originally as a passenger ship in 1937 by Mitsubishi Nagasaki for the Osaka Soshen Company.  The ship was drafted by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1941, when it was promptly converted into a hospital ship - hence the white paint accented by huge red crosses on each side of her hull and on her two smoke stacks.  These markings provided the Takasago Maru some (but not total) respite from allied attacks during World War II. It was one of the few Japanese merchant vessels to survive the war.  After completing a series of post-war cruises to the Philippines, Indochina, and other ports to ferry Japanese combatants back home, the Takasago Maru was largely idle by 1950.

CAPTION:  Late 1945, Manila Harbor.  Five years later, on July 2, 1950, troops 
of the U.S. Army's 34th Infantry Regiment embarked for Pusan, Korea 
onboard the Takasago Maru, leased from the Osaka Soshen Company. 

The day before, on July 1, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the 34th to move to the Korean peninsula to "delay the advance" of North Korean forces moving south of the 38th parallel. Because no Military Sea Transport Service assets were available, Captain Raymond D. Hatfield, the 34th Regiment's S4 (logistics) officer, scrambled to lease the appropriate civilian shipping capacity.  The Takasago Maru would serve that purpose, moving the regiment's men and their personal gear.  Regimental vehicles - over 100 in number - would be shipped separately by LSTs. 

Philip and his colleagues queued into the ship's confines, discovering cabins that had been stripped bare of their contents, except for marble floors that remained from the ship's early days as a true passenger liner.  Many men opted to encamp on the ship's wooden deck, anticipating a 15-hour passage from Sasebo to the Korean port of Pusan. Over half of these American soldiers were age 20 or younger. 

The Land of the Morning Calm awaited them.  Some boys openly boasted that the North Koreans would turn and run once they saw American uniforms under a stars-and-stripes flag. Why wouldn't they? 

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