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When Island-Hopping Wasn't A Day At The Beach
BY ERIC CARLSON
Walking the deck of PT 728, supported on boat
jacks at Southport Marina, brought back a
stream of memories for Bob Rohde of Holden
Beach. Fifty years ago he was on a similar boat, doing
battle with the Japanese off the coast of New Guinea.
Every night, the enemy would try to transport food
and ammunition to troops dug in along a long chain of
occupied islands extending northwest toward the
Philippines. Every night, the U.S. Navy's fast moving
patrol-torpedo (PT) boats would try to keep those re
supply missions from happening.
It was a mission they called "barge-busting," after the
shallow-draft cargo vessels the Japanese used to slip
through coral reefs and sneak along the shorelines under
cover of darkness.
The PT boats would idle along the coast, watching for
telltale "blips" on their radar screens. With most of the
islands still under enemy control, anything moving past
the beach was assumed to be hostile
On a good night, a pair of PTs could remain just be
yond the range of shore guns and cripple a barge with
cannon and machine gun fire. Then the speedy
American boats would swoop in close, zoom pass the
enemy craft at more than 40 miles per hour and toss a
depth charge over the side to finish it off.
It was 1(M4, when Rohde was an eager, adventurous
17-year-old who joined the Navy and was seeing the
world through the sights of two SO-caHher mwhiw
"On most nights, nothing happened," Rohde remem
bered. "Other nights, all hell would break loose."
like the time Rohde 's boat and another PT were qui
eUy burbling along the coast when a sniper began firing
from shore The other boat's skipper wasn't wearing his
helmet and was fatally wounded by a gunshot to the
Hearing the commotion, Rohde said they were mov
ing closer to see whal happened when another bullet tore
through the other boat's hull and destroyed the primary
fuel valve It soon lost all power and went dead in the
water, just as (he artillery emplacements opened up from
The helmsman of Rohde s boat gave itt three V-12
aircraft engines full power and began a high-speed circle
around (he stricken craft. As they passed between their
comrades' boat and the shore batteries, the crew opened
smoke canisters to create a thick fog along the beach
Under this veil of cover, Rohde said they were able to
evacuate the stranded sailors. But not without casualties.
"A couple of men got shot up pretty bad.1* he said.
"But you had to take it in stride If a guy got shot, the
guy got shot You still had to go back and make break
fast the next morning "
That was Rohde ? job as cook aboard the PT 366. He
volunteered for (he bottom rung after de- ?
nding that he'd spent enough time hauling
provisions, fuel and ammunition to the
boats as a shore-duty sailor He was later
assigned to the f I ItO, a tormer squadron
mate of the famous PT 109 from which a
young U John F. Kennedy was credited
with saving 10 men after being rammed
and sunk by a Japanese destroyer
While taking a tour of the PT 728 last
week, Kohde pointed out his oki banie sta
tion ?t ooe of the gun turrets Knocking oa
the protective "armor" brought a dull
wooden "thump" instead of the heavy
clang of steel
Other than the streamlined hull, there
wasn't much left of the original 7H-foot
Higgins design Even the torpedo tubes
were wooden and painted black to look like
the real thing
Which isn't surprising, since the PT 728
was built for export and was converted to
private use after seeing no action during the war. Its last
"tour of duty" was in a movie about the South Pacific
exploits of (who else?) John F. Kennedy. The boat's new
owner brought it to Southport from his home in Key
West, Florida. He plans to completely refurbish the PT
728 for use as a dinner boat in the Keys.
Still, there is enough of the craft left intact to spark
Rohde 's imagination and send the 68-year-old striding
confidently around its familiar hull like the teenager that
served on PT 105.
Disappearing below decks, Rohde showed a visitor
the cramped engine room in which a trio of 1 ,2(X)- horse
power Packard engines used to be mounted. Moving for
ward through a bulkhead, he pointed out a the cramped
space where four bunks once hung, surrounded by three
fuel tanks holding 2,500 gallons of 100-octane gasoline.
"Someone once figured that when you add up all the
ammunition and the fuel on board, 80 percent of a PT
boat's weight was explosive," Rohde said.
PHOTO BY NU FAVfH
HUMANS HAVE the "capacity for giving thanks" which sets us apart from other creatures.
UNDER WAY off the coast of New Guinea,
Rohde snapped this picture of a fellow crew
member at his duty station aboard a fast-moving
with 5-inch guns. The shells thfty firpH wprp ranahlp of
sinking a large ship. Luckily, the artillery was mounted
for long range use and could not be aimed downward.
That allowed the high-speed PT boat to maneuver into
the bay and pluck the pilot out of the water.
Such accounts tumbled out one after another as
Rohde continued his tour of "PT 728. Like the night his
boat was nearly rammed by passing destroyer moving at
nearly 50 knots. Or the time an Australian bomber mis
took the PT 105 for an enemy boat and strafed the deck
with machine gun fire.
"We had just seen a training film that showed how 50
caliber bullets slow down to almost nothing after going
through about 3 feet of water," Rohde remembered. "So
everybody who could jumped overboard.
"We still lost a couple guys," he said. "We had to stuff
pillows into the holes to keep from sinking. But we
made it back."
After the war, Rohde returned to his home in
Babylon, N.Y. He went to work for the state highway
department as a laborer and worked his way up to the
engineering department in a career that spanned 33
His wife Florence had a college friend from
Wilmington who worked for the railroad. He told the
Rohdes about Holden Beach. The couple moved here
and built their own retirement home in 1982.
Since then, he said "at least a dozen" friends and rela
tives have also moved to the area. Their daughter
Michelle is married to chief resident Superior Court
Judge William C. Gore Jr. Their son Bob Jr. is an active
member of the Tri-Beach Fire Department. Rohde's
nephew Raymond DiNardi operates a foreign car service
center in Shallotte.
As for Bob Rohde, he keeps himself busy with pro
jects around the house, although he can sometimes be
coaxed into showing visitors the old photos of his PT
boat years. Most of the time he tries to accomplish ex
actly what he always planned to do after retiring.
"Nothing," he said with a grin.
c<xo? moras ?y emc cakison. othehs contkibuted
FIFTY YEARS after he hus photographed peeling potatoes on a PT
boat in the South Pacific, Bob Ro'hde re-creates the scene on the deck of
a similar craft undergoing repairs at Southport Marina
plement Gen. Douglas
J MacArthur's strategy
I of "island-hopping"
| through the South Pac
ific and re-capturing
In all, Rohde spent
about two years on PT
boats helping to im
? , 0
strategic territory held by the Japanese. Beginning in
Milne Bay at the southeastern tip of New Guinea,
Rohde 's squadron "hopped" for 2,000 miles through ex
otic sounding outposts like Lae, Wewak, Aitape, Biak,
Morotai, Mindanao and finally Leyte in the Philippines.
"It was an exciting time to be young," he said.
The concept of small, fast patrol boats was originally
scoffed at by officials who thought of naval warfare in
terms of battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and de
stroyers. But the longer the PT boats remained in ser
vice, the more uses were found for them.
Besides barge-busting. Rohde remembers transporting
native spies to Japanese-controlled islands, where they
would be dropped offshore in rafts and retrieved a few
nights later. Tbe PTs often provided anti-aircraft support
during major invasions. And tiieir speed and armament
made them extremely useful as rescue vessels.
Rohde 's boat was once sent to rescue a downed pilot
who parachuted into the middle of a harbor fortified
REMINISCING about his years on a World War II PT boat, Bob Rohde examines the hull of PT 728,
which last saw duty in a movie about the young Lt. John F. Kennedy 's exploits aboard PT 109.
The Capacity For Giving Thanks
BY BILL FAVER
Aristotle is credited with observing in the fourth cen
tury B.C. that "the nature of man is not what he was
born as, but what he was born for."
Others have written at length in at
tempts to say humans are more than
the biological animals they share
with all creation.
Some have called this nature the
"spiritual man" or the "cultural
man" as opposed to the "natural
man" or the "biological man." The
real difference seems to be "man
makes himself," as one writer ably
Humans, unlike other animals, have the capacity for
reasoning and vision which makes it possible for them
to shape their own destinies. They can learn from the
past, like most animals may do, but no other animal can
analyze that past and incorporate those experiences into
a vision of what might have been or what can be.
Humans can choose to modify animal instincts and
urges to pursue other goals. Many have sacrificed their
biological existence for nonmaterial values, like family
and friends and country.
Humans can choose to help others in need or distress
to a much greater degree than do other animals. Their
awareness of social conditions and individual circum
stances can prompt them to respond out of caring for
their fellow human beings.
Humans also have the capacity for giving thanks.
They can acknowledge their dependence upon others
and upon their environment and express their gratitude.
They can choose to "protect the nest" by consciously
seeking to work for better living space to improve the
quality of life on this small planet we call home.
Adlai Stevenson's classic quotation on spaceship
Earth reminds us all of the importance of realizing the
independencies: "We all travel together, passengers on
a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable supplies
of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its securi
ty and peace, preserved from annihilation only by Ihe
care, the work, and I will say the love we give our frag
Perhaps we can take time during this Thanksgiving
season to add to our lists of people and things and val
ues and ideas for which we are thankful. We can give
thanks for the ability to understand the complexities
and interdependencies of "Spaceship Eanh" and the
ability to help shape its future. And, we can give thanks
for the "capacity for giving thanks" which sets us apart
from other creatures.