Precious cargo, coming home
By Dr. Earl Trevathan
For The Daily Reflector
Sunday, May 26, 2019
Reader Hansy Jones suggested The Reflector publish the following memoir about the end of World War II from Dr. Earl Trevathan of Pitt County in honor of Memorial Day. Trevathan, who was in the navy, shared it with the paper.
Our ship, the USS Gosper, a Navy casualty troop transport vessel, was returning from the Philippines in early October, 1945. The war had just ended and the invasion of Japan was no longer anticipated.
From the ravaged and war-torn city of Manila we brought aboard our ship 300 American, British and Canadian former prisoners of war. I was a Pharmacist Mate Third Class assigned to help provide medical care for these malnourished, malaria and parasite-ridden soldiers. Their wasted extremities, swollen abdomens and atabrine-yellow stained skin were the marks of four years of imprisonment.
Our destination was San Francisco, where families of our POWs would be waiting for their loved ones. About a day out from the continental United States, Radioman John Leonetti received a message from Naval Command to proceed to Seattle as Frisco docking was filled. Disappointment, yes, but then we were advised that all the family members of our “precious cargo” would be flown to Seattle to meet our arrival at the army’s expense.
Twenty-four hours later and we were nearing the American continent. By mid-morning we were covered by a blanket of fog so we made our way very slowly, neared and nearer, taking no chances, not even trusting radar, having gotten our passengers this close to their last destination.
We knew that land was about us, only the fog prevented the liberated from seeing their Canada and their USA for the first time in four years. Slowly the fog lifted on the starboard side and the men were ignoring their first cold wind in years to see the warm sun break in its afternoon position and to see the trees along the shore of Washington state. Everyone was on deck shivering in the wind and as night fell we could see the lights from mining operations on Canadian soil.
The seagulls were gone for the night and lights from a city shone faintly overhead. Slowly, the Gosper moved forward like a stranger, all alone, approaching the little port of Victoria, British Columbia, where we were to disembark our British and Canadian former prisoners of war.
We seemed to be slipping up on a quiet little town that was preparing for sleep. An orange moon was rising and made glittering reflections on the water and on the windows of houses.
A little tug came out to meet us and nudge us into the harbor. The Gosper looked like some giant coming in, with the shoreline so close by.
But — we were no strangers. Suddenly, there was a blast from the tug as if to tell the town that a stranger was arriving, and all the citizens knew what was aboard our ship. Instantly, sirens sounded, horns blew, ship whistles let go the greatest noise imaginable. Then spotlights filled the air, lit up the harbor and covered our ship, and it was then that the tense souls aboard realized we were getting a hero’s welcome home. And oh, what a welcome.
No one on the ship spoke a word. All were too thrilled and emotional to utter a sound. The whole city of Victoria, B.C., had turned out to welcome us.
A hush fell over the crowd, choked with emotions as the stretcher cases were the first to disembark down the gang plank. Then the revelry resumed and one by one members of the families came forth to embrace their long imprisoned loved ones. Precious cargo, on American soil again.
After World War II, Trevathan became a pediatric neurologist and practiced for decades in his native Pitt County.