Orndorff, Henry R. ‘44

Orndorff, Henry R. ‘44

Orndorff was 18 when he entered Kings Point to receive preliminary training and he has his third assistant license by the time he was 20. His first ship assignment as engine cadet was to the James B. Stevens in either October or November 1942 and he was on it until the ship was sunk on March 8, 1943. He joined the ship when it was still under construction in Portland, OR; he remembers that it was hard to get any sleep with all the construction noise. There were 4 cadets, 2 deck and 2 engine and the Captain was John Edward Green Jr. The deck cadets were Pat Kelly and Ed Kavanagh; Henry could not remember the name of the other engine cadet. They navigated down the west coast of South America, around the horn and then over to Port Said, Egypt.

The ship was loaded with tanks and lumber on deck. They delivered the cargo to Port Said and shortly after departure found that they had serious problem with some bearings. They limped back to port; and the Chief Engineer, Orndorff and the other engine cadet spend a couple days repairing it. The Chief gave them a few days off to see some of Egypt. Then they departed again for the states via Durban. On March 8, 1943 the ship was torpedoed off of South Africa, about 150 miles from Durban. Orndorff was in bed when the first torpedo struck and immediately went to his boat station when orders were given to abandon ship. The Gunnery Officer saw him in the lifeboat before it was lowered and thrust a brief case on him for some reason. They lowered the boat and he was in it when the 2nd torpedo struck; the explosion caused flaming oil to be cast upon him and everyone in the boat. Many men were still climbing down the ropes and were thrown in the water; some in the boat jumped into the water. He was glad he was taught at Kings Point to stay in the lifeboat; he just lowered his head and the flames went out but the oil remained everywhere. They used any cloth they had to wipe the oil away so they could man the oars. One of the Armed Guard tore up a nice gown he had purchased for his wife in Egypt and used it to clean off the oil. The ship split in half and was on fire. The Third Mate, Tommy McCarthy, and Orndorff traded off manning the tiller; they steered at night toward the Southern Cross. It was good they had the briefcase since it contained a bottle of whiskey and a camera. One of the 13 men in the boat had a badly damaged thumb that had to be amputated with a scissors so the whiskey helped him. They used the camera to take photos of the men in the boat. Apparently they were south of Durban when they saw a light that turned out to be at a power station. The radio operator in their life boat communicated with the station by Morse code flashing light and was told to lay off shore until next morning as it was not a safe shore to land. In the morning they were picked up by an unarmed crash boat that was sent for them to take them to Durban. The first thing the crew of the boat gave them was whiskey to drink; Henry only had a sip and knew it wasn’t good for him; he remembers that those who took more were very woozy since their stomachs were empty after 6 days and seven nights on the lifeboat where they had rationed water, crackers and something like pemmican to eat. The men were taken to a Race Track near Durban. They showered and got some fresh clothes and were bunked in the horse stables where tired bunk beds were installed. The Navy took all the military personnel and Henry never saw them again. They were moved to a hotel on the outskirts of Durban; perhaps it was the Shepherd Hotel and they stayed about four weeks; they were all young and enjoyed their time there and wished it could have been longer. He was assigned to the hotel room with Tommy McCarthy with whom he had bonded a great deal on the lifeboat. He was fortunate to meet him once again when Hendy was 2nd Assistant Engineer and McCarthy came down to see him.

Orndorff’s ship that repatriated him was not a good one as the crew seemed to all dislike each other after having been too long in the Persian Gulf. He stood watch with the 1st assistant and that time counted as his sea time. He returned to Kings Point and finished his final training under strict regulations established by Captain Stedman.

 

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