Rocket: A Dog’s Story
He was a little dog, the sort you would know at a glance to be some boy’s most understanding friend. Because he had shipped for his first cruise on LSM(R) 194, the little guy answered to the name of “Rocket.”
Rocket came aboard at San Diego. Jimmy, the Gunner’s Mate, having just made First Class, paid for half of him. During the long weeks that followed, the ship steamed from island base to island base until she reached a newly won anchorage in the Philippines. Rocket led a quiet life; it was hot on the steel decks so that he usually sought the shady coolness of the 5-inch handling room. At morning General Quarters, he was always to be found there. The men shared their trays with him at chow and his presence in the vast sea of loneliness brought all hands a remembrance of the things they had left behind.
Then one morning the ships slipped out of the anchorage and sailed north to the new D-Day and their destiny. For six weeks Rocket’s ship pounded the beaches of the enemy, clearing the way for the troops. On lonely patrols it fought off dive bombers and each hour carried the fight closer to the Japanese homeland. During all the sleepless hours that followed and the General Quarters without number seemed to combine into a hazy tired recollection, Rocket made the handling room his Battle Station. Just above him was Jimmy’s station, by the 5-inch gun.
They were on one of their interminable patrols, when out of the dusk for Japanese bombers swooped in to attack the ship. By some miracle they escaped injury. But though they had come off “Scot Free,” a strange premonition grew in the hearts of many. It was then that Jimmy realized that Rocket was the only hand aboard without a life jacket. That night, an old kapok jacket was cut down to fit. It was trimmed so that the tie strings held it securely about the middle and allowed is paws freedom for swimming. At first, Rocket, like many new sailors, rebelled at this inconvenience. For several ensuing “Flash Reds” (air attack imminent) he tried to paw it off but the tie strings had been sewed well and beyond the reach of his paws. Finally, he suffered with canine resignation to the indignity of his unsinkable straightjacket.
Shortly thereafter came the evening when the Japs with fanatical fury, dove in Rocket’s ship. In a moment a proud fighting LSM(R) was transformed into a cauldron of flaming gasoline, burning powder and devastation. Fire flashed through the handling room and in its wake there were scorched men and death. Topside, those who were able, fought the blaze, but the trickles from the ruptured fire mains proved a hopeless mockery. The dusk was settling in an ironic race with the ship. The Pharmacist’s Mate worked with plasma to replace the vital fluid in the burnt out bodies and administered morphine syrettes to the members of the gun crews who had caught the brunt of the attack. When it became apparent that heroism alone could not save them, the captain gave the word: “Abandon Ship” – the Te Deum of the Sea.Into the darkening waters men handed their wounded shipmates. Life rafts were lashed together and the unwounded propelled them away from the vessel. And now explosions from the sinking ship were turning the water like an irresistible churn that shook and frequently ruptured men’s guts. The pyre of the ship illuminated the sea and noise of ravishing flames drowned out the cries of the wounded and the delirious. That is all but one cry, the well-membered bark of thoroughly miserable Rocket. As far as any could recall no one had lived to escape the handling room, but there paddling along, his eyes smarting with oil, was Rocket.
One of the men turned from the raft and swam back through the oil to the dog. His life jacket worked; it had protected the greater part of his body from burns and though his paw was burnt raw, Rocket survived. The swimmer called for the dog to come toward him, without avail, so that he had to close the last twenty yards to discover why. Beside Rocket in the water that was mangled with blood, were the scattered inhuman remains of his shipmate Jimmy.
A jolting underwater concussion jarred Rocket so that he turned to his rescuer. Perched on the collar of his life jacket, man and dog paddled toward the flashlights of a destroyer’s whale boat that had stood by them in their agony.
When I last saw Rocket he was heading for his new home with Jimmy’s family; the boys all thought he would like to spend his survivors’ leave and the days thereafter with them.