Below is a list of 114 survivors that were brought to Fiji:
and transportation of Anti-Aircraft munitions.
Survivor Stephen Dybas recalls he joined with friend Eitel Kirsch and they went to Basic Training at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Dybas attended technical training as an automotive/truck mechanic in St. Louis, Missouri. From there they attended basic combat/infantry skills training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. Afterwards, they traveled through Beaumont, TX to Yuma, AZ, where Desert Training Maneuvers were conducted. It was here that Dybas and Kirsch officially became members of the 253rd. Interesting that they had desert training before being sent to the Pacific theater.
From Yuma they were transported to San Francisco, where they boarded the Cape San Juan.
The 253rd was fortunate to have lost only three men in the attack (listed on the Honolulu Memorial):
According to Dybas, Jayroe was the Company Mail Clerk. During the attack, he was stationed in a gun tub with a member of the Navy Armed Guard to man one of the guns. When the torpedo hit, Jayroe was blown out of the gun tub and into the water, unconscious, where it was presumed that he drowned.
Dybas knew Hurst and Suther as well, but is not sure how they died.
According to Dybas, just before the attack he had completed his tour on the Midnight Watch, and went to go grab some coffee. As he emerged topside with his coffee, he decided to grab a quick smoke. Because smoking was prohibited, they had to sneak them quickly beneath a tarp of some type. As his proud son Greg tells the story: “So, if you can imagine, as Dad states it, he's got a cup of joe in one hand, an unlit smoke in his mouth, and when he strikes the match, the torpedo hits! BOOM! It's funny to hear him tell it because he actually thought he blew up the ship when he lit the match.”
Shortly thereafter, the Captain gave the order over the loudspeaker to "Abandon Ship" at which time Dybas jumped for it. After coming up from under the water, oil soaked and his eyes and skin burning from the oil, he spotted none other than his hometown buddy, Eitel Kirsch. He happened to be the only man in a single life raft. Kirsch threw him a lifeline, then pulled him into the raft. According to Dybas, 27 men made it into his raft, one of which was a "colored" guy from the 855th, name unknown.
Later that afternoon they tried to make it to Moss’ PBM, but the waves and current kept increasing the distance between them. Their raft was finally rescued just before dark the following day by the USS McCalla.
According to Dybas, crew members of the McCalla kept shooting out lifelines, which kept falling short, so he left the safety of the raft and swam about 25 yards to retrieve the lifeline, then swam back to the raft. As they were reeled in to the ship, sailors on the McCalla with rifles were shooting into the water. Only after they got on the McCalla did they find out that the sailors were shooting at sharks! His friend Kirsch considered him a hero.
Dybas still has nightmares about sharks brushing up against him in the water at night. He said there could have been more survivors on the raft that slipped away in the night, whether to sharks or other injuries.The USS McCalla transported them to Suva, Fiji, where most of the 253rd was reunited. Dybas was only able to send his parents a brief telegraph from Camp Samambula, near Suva, Fiji to let them know he was O.K.
Below is a list of 57 men from the 253rd that were brought to Noumea aboard the Edwin T. Meredith:
Oddly, the 114 men brought to Fiji, plus the 57 brought to Noumea, plus the 3 casualties total 174 men, even though the report from the transport commander noted 162 Officers & Enlisted Men.
Cammie Singler, daughter of 253rd member Shelby Cunningham contacted me this past year and told me how her father and others resorted to using paper money they had on them to try and wipe the oil from their eyes. This oil soaked money was later used to create a tribute to the men that were lost by one of their more artistic members, Kenneth K. Hunt from Greensboro, NC.
Ken Hunt would later also contribute the cover art for the poem I include at the bottom of the main Cape San Juan page.
“Dear Mother and Dad,
Have just found out that I can tell you what happened on the way over here. The enclosed papers are a mimeographed copy of the notice that appeared in a Baltimore newspaper. (See end of letter). I can’t tell you the date that it occurred…..
The navy gun crew….stayed by their guns and kept up a regular curtain of fire in the direction from which the torpedo came. This forced the Japs to stay under until the troops were clear of the ship. Shortly after that a plane arrived, but it failed to locate the sub.
When the torpedo hit I was doing guard duty about twenty feet from the spot where it hit. I happened to be looking over the rail at that time and saw the huge flash of fire in the water. Almost immediately there came the noise of the explosion, and that was really a noise. The next thing I knew I was trying to get my head above water. At first I thought I was in the ocean, and because I couldn’t get my head above water I wondered if I’d forgotten my life preserver, which we were required to wear whenever we were on deck. After what seemed like ages, but which in reality must have been only a short time, I managed to get a breath of air. Shortly after that the water subsided somewhat and I found myself lying flat on the deck. I got up and went back to the hatch where the rest of the company was.
Just about that time the guns began to cut loose. You could see the balls of fire hit the water and then bounce off from it. We got our rafts over the side and left the ship. The raft I was in was built to accommodate twenty men but we had thirty-two in it and on it. The bottom soon broke out of it and we had to stand on the ropes hanging from the sides of it. [Note: this must have been a Carley Float] There were several sharks there and some of the fellows saw the results of their work, but fortunately I didn’t.
About 11 o’clock a ship arrived and picked up some of the survivors. They stayed until nearly dark and then had to leave. The rest of us weren’t picked up until about noon of the next day. That day was my birthday and I think it’s one that I’ll remember for some time. [Note: this tells his parents when the event occurred] We were picked up by a navy ship and those sailors were certainly a swell bunch of fellows. They had coffee and food ready for us, gave us some of their own clothing and kept us supplied with cigarettes. A day or so later we were put ashore at Suva in the Fiji islands where we were put in the hospital for a few days. Incidentally, that’s the prettiest island I’ve seen yet. Later on, we went to Noumea on New Caledonia and still later to Australia. When we were first picked up and after I had gotten rid of my oil-soaked clothing, my possessions, with the exception of my dog tags, amounted to just as much as I was born with. So you see it wasn’t exactly carelessness that caused the loss of the things I told you of. [Note: Wells seems to infer he was given some grief by his parents when he wrote previously asking for replacement stuff, but before he could them what really happened.]
Well, there isn’t much more to write about for this time, so guess I’d better sign off.
After Fiji, the 253rd regrouped in Brisbane, Australia.At the end of the war Dybas came home from the Philippines to San Francisco (“Frisco” as he calls it) on the SS Brazil (the ship that brought the Washingtonian survivors home in '42). After arriving in San Francisco he had his first hot shower in years, then missed a New Year’s Eve Party in a fancy hotel....”slept right through it”.
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