USS Skagit Family Gram
1967 WesPac cruise
11 September 1967
Since we left Manila, all of us have been very busy with OPERATION SCHOOLHOUSE. This operation was conceived when the Philippine Government asked the United States to aid them in delivering pre-fabricated schoolhouse units to the southern islands of their republic. The United States made USS SKAGIT (AKA 105) and six other Navy ships available for this mission. We were fortunate enough to be moored in Manila harbor – just three blocks from downtown Manila – for four days while loading. We steamed first to Zamboanga City, Philippines, on the southern tip of the island of Mindanao, only 6 1/2 degrees or 390 miles north of the equator. We expected hot weather, but things were breezy and comfortable during most of the stay there. We were one of two Navy ships to visit that port in six years, so we were given royal treatment.
The first day we were entertained by outrigger boats full of natives stationed all around the ship bartering with sea shells, pieces of bright coral, coconuts, and straw hats. Some of them were excellent swimmers, and could dive for coins tossed from the ship. Many of the local town folk went out of their way to show the men around town and even invited crew members into their home. I have never seen any city open it's doors to Navy men as did Zamboanga. Several of the crew enjoyed swimming on the coral beaches of a nearby uninhabited island. I'm sure that the ship must have taken on about a half a ton of sea shells and coral during it's stay there.
We visited Cagayan D'Oro next. The name means "River of Gold" in Spanish. It Could have just as well meant "River of Pineapple", for there was located the central pineapple plant of Del Monte. The city reflected the presence of industry, for the well paved streets, trimmed hedges, and clean stores reminded us a bit of a "home town USA" city park.
Our final stop was at the small port of Tanauan, on the island Leyte. It is a few miles south of Tacloban. Their pier was so short that we had to move the ship twice to get all the holds alongside it. Everywhere we went we were greeted with cries of "Hey Joe", which was a leftover from World War II. The beach on which McArthur landed his liberation Army was near to Tacloban. Some of the landing ships are still rusting on the beach.
Many of the people are quite destitute. Some of our crew visited the schools and reported dirt floors, fifty students to a class, no windows in the room – just slats, and very short supplies. It was here that we really learned how important our job was to these people.
Our repair division heard of the need for some work to be done in the city's park and restored all the park benches, a swing set, and the merry go round on the playground. They also supplied a fresh coat of paint to the World War II memorial monument there. We also learned of the need for whole blood supplies, and eleven of our men responded to the call, giving a unit each to the local hospital.
While the ship was moored near the pier, an outrigger full of men, women and children capsized nearby. Our men in the ship's boats made a dramatic rescue of all personnel aboard towing the boat to shore for them. Our basketball team was beaten by the two local teams...how badly I don't know, as the players won't divulge the score. Our softball team did, however score a victory after an extra inning. Apparently these people make up for their lack of size with speed.
All Hands were eagerly awaiting the mail that was piled high in the post office in Manila when we returned as we had no mail service while in the southern islands. Service should be more regular from now on.
We were all shocked and saddened by a tragic accident in which Petty Officer Donald J. Van Dyke, Boatswain Mate first Class, was fatally injured while in Zamboanga. While directing the unloading of cargo, he accidentally fell from the main deck into hold number four. The ship's doctor was by his side in seconds, and within minutes our vehicle took him to the local hospital. The facilities there were excellent and they did an outstanding job until we had him air evacuated to the Clark Air Force Base hospital that afternoon. He passed away on 6 September in the Clark hospital. He left his wife in San Diego and his mother in Michigan. It will be impossible to find a finer seaman and person. Memorial services were held aboard ship this afternoon.
While we have been in Subic Bay, just north of Manila, the last of the rainy season is being poured upon us every day. We shall be at sea again shortly, and with three and a half months of our deployment over, we find that we are on the down-hill portion of our tour through the Western Pacific. More new ports and more family-grams to come.
W. A. Mackey
Captain U. S. Navy