HISTORY OF U.S.S. ESCAMBIA (AO-80)
(The following history of U.S.S. ESCAMBIA was submitted by Captain Richard Goorgian
to the Secretary of The Navy, Public Information Section, on 1 October 1945.)
The keel of the ship which is now the U.S.S. ESCAMBIA (AO-80) was laid in December, 1942, at the yards of Marinship in Sausalito, California. with Mrs. Joseph Cooper, wife of a Marinship worker, as sponsor, the launching took place on April 24, 1943. The vessel was then moved to the San Francisco piers of the Matson Navigation Company, for conversion to a Navy fleet oiler.
Prior to commissioning, ship's company was assembled at the Receiving Ship on Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay, and went through an intensive training program. A pre-commissioning ball was held on October 20, 1943, for those chosen to be plankowners. On the day after Navy Day, October 28, 1943, the ship was placed in commission by a representative of the Assistant Industrial Manager's Office, San Francisco. The name "ESCAMBIA" was taken to commemorate the Escambia River which flows through Florida. This was the first of a series of eight "ESCAMBIA" or "80" class fleet oilers.
Shakedown cruise was held in the San Francisco - San Pedro - San Diego area. All equipment was tested and gunnery and fueling-at-sea exercises were conducted. The ship was inspected by Navy representatives of Commander Operational Training Command, Pacific Fleet on conclusion of training period, and on December 7, 1943, left San Pedro bound for Pearl Harbor.
On arrival at Pearl Harbor another inspection was made primarily to check the material setup of the vessel. The authorities there decided to send the ship back to a repair yard in San Francisco to eliminate the final kinks and ready her for extended operations.
After her cargo was discharged, the return voyage was made and the vessel was docked at United Engineering Company in Alameda, California, where during a 24-day period all necessary changes and repairs were accomplished. A cargo of fuel oil, diesel oil and aviation gasoline was loaded aboard and once again Pearl Harbor was the destination.
After a brief stop at Pearl Harbor the ship was sent to help supply the fleet in the Marshall Islands campaign arriving at Majuro Atoll on February 9, 1944. From Majuro, a short round trip was made to Roi Island on Kwajalein Atoll. During this time, major fleet units were fueled in the two anchorages.
Early in March, the ESCAMBIA was one of several fleet oilers ordered to Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides. The ESCAMBIA was one of the many fleet oilers which fueled the task forces assaulting Palau in March and Truk in the latter part of April. The ship called at the Admiralty Islands, shortly after their invasion, and fueled fleet units which were assaulting Hollandia. Early in May, the ESCAMBIA called at Port Purvis and Tulagi in the Solomons, while returning to Espiritu Santo. There the ship remained for a few months, in a reserve status for an operation that was later cancelled.
On June 3, 1944 the first commanding officer, Commander John M. Paulsson, USNR, was relieved by Lieutenant Richard Goorgian, USNR. In late August and early September, many of the large groups of ships assembled for the invasion of Palau were fueled by the ESCAMBIA The ship then moved to Seeadler Harbor in the Admiralty Islands, from which base the forces making the preliminary assaults on the Philippines were fueled at sea.
In October, the replenishing base was advanced to Ulithi Atoll, in the Western Carolines. From there, several trips were made to fuel the units assaulting Formosa, Leyte, and other islands of the Philippines. While at Ulithi in November, 1944, a typhoon sideswiped the Atoll, loosening some mines left behind by the Japanese, and the ill-fated fleet oiler MISSISSINEWA was sunk presumably by a midget Japanese submarine.
During the previous months of fueling, engineering difficulties had been experienced on an increasing scale. After a round trip to Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshalls, the ESCAMBIA was ordered to the Todd Shipyards at San Pedro, California, for overhaul, arriving there on December 27, 1944. Leaves were granted to all hands.
On March 1, 1945 the vessel left San Pedro once again bound for Pearl Harbor. Early in April, she was ordered on to Ulithi, from which base she sailed immediately to join the Logistic Support Group backing up the invasion of Okinawa and the strikes on Japan. A three-day trip into Hagushi Beach and Kerama Retto was made late in April, and the Kamikaze boys were successfully evaded.
Continuing through the summer of 1945, the ESCAMBIA remained in part of the Logistic Support Group, which operated in the vicinity of Japan. The powerful groups of Task Forces 38 and 58 were fueled repeatedly. The ship remained at sea for long periods, returning to Ulithi only for oil and the many other supplies and mail to be carried to the fleet. Early in June, 1945, a violent typhoon was encountered at sea and successfully weathered. Operating a few hundred miles from Tokyo and while fueling Task Force 38 on August 15, 1945, the exciting news of Japan's surrender was received.
In the first part of September, 1945, the ESCAMBIA was again at Ulithi, but soon departed for Buckner Bay, Okinawa. From there she was destined for a fueling group in the Yellow Sea, but was not called. On the 16th, a typhoon struck, and forced to remain in the harbor, the ship rode out the storm at anchor. Again on September 27, another typhoon was approaching the area, and the ESCAMBIA sortied with other ships in the harbor to avoid it, remaining at sea for three days.
On October 1 in Buckner Bay, the ESCAMBIA awaited further orders. Her company are content with the knowledge that they and their ship were an important unit of the Logistic Support Group that enabled the world's greatest Navy to beat our enemy to his knees.
Continuing where the Captain left off, we left the harbor again October 7 and some of the storm hit us, but when we returned to Okinawa the 11th we found the Island was flattened. We left Okinawa October 13 and arrived at Wakayama in Japan the 15th, and left Wakayama the 21st and arrived at Tokyo Bay the 23rd. We were anchored 30 miles out and could see Yokohama on the horizon. LSTs took us in for liberty in Tokyo and Yokahama What an experience!
The ESCAMBIA left Tokyo Bay November 4,1945 and sailed the Great Circle Route to San Francisco, 4,536 miles took 14 days. We sighted Golden Gate Bridge at 0600 November 17th. WOW! The ship moved to explosives anchorage at Hunter's Point November 19th to unload all ammunition, a two day job. The ESCAMBIA moved to her old anchorage off Angel Island to await space at a dock for decommissioning. Men with 41 points were transferred to Treasure Island Intake Station headed for DISCHARGE and HOME! Anchor was finally lifted February 4th (after 2 months & 18 days) and docked in Richmond Shipyard to decommission the ship. Ship's crew and Ship's Office moved to the YPB-21 during decommissioning operations. The U.S.S. ESCAMBIA was finally decommissioned on February 20,1946. The remaining skeleton crew were transferred to Treasure Island for leave and reassignment!
SOME ESKY STATISTICS
The U.S.S. ESCAMBIA (AO-80) was the first of a series of fast Fleet Oilers known as Escambia Class. Other ships in this class were KENNEBAGO (AO-81), CAHABA (AO-82), MASCOMA (AO-83), OCKLAWAHA (AO-84), PAMANSET (AO-85), PONAGANSET (AO-86), SEBEC (AO-87) and TOMAHAWK (AO-88).
The ESCAMBIA was 523' 6" in length, 68' beam, 30' 10" draft, and 15-knot speed. She was at sea 321 days from November 13, 1943 to November 17, 1945. She fueled 389 ships of the fleet, 231 of them at sea, without a serious accident.
THE ESCAMBIA'S LAST CHAPTER
Our good ship U.S.S. ESCAMBIA had a rather interesting second life after decommissioning and moth balling 20 February 1946. She was reacquired by U.S. Navy and reinstated on the Naval Vessel Register 26 January 1948 and assigned to Naval Transportation Service; reassigned to Military Sea Transport Service on 18 July 1950 as USNS ESCAMBIA (T-AO-80) and transferred to MARAD in l957 for layup and struck. She was acquired by the Army in May 1966 and converted to Mobile Army Emergency Power Plant in Todd Shipyard, Seattle, with Vinnel Corporation as commercial contractor.
Her main deck loaded with lumber, refrigerated containers, a trench digger for electrical lines, and other supplies, she sailed for Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, arriving in late 1966. she was assigned to Qui Nhon RVN to supply power to shore installations. The U. S. Army left her there when pulling out of Vietnam. The Vietnamese used her until March 1971, and scrapped her in August of that year. She retained her original name throughout her service.
This information was obtained by Gordon Leen from Department of the Army and by Virgil Grier from Paul A. Olson, a Vinnel marine electrician who saw the ESCAMBIA reunion notice in the American Legion Magazine. Olson was aboard the ship from Seattle to Vietnam and took fifteen color slides of her, which he sent to Virgil for making prints. Says Virgil: "It gave me a strange feeling to see pictures of her 20 years after decommissioning, and some of you deck men may drop a tear to see the rust on her deck and rails....but the hull looked good when leaving Seattle. However, the pictures of her in Vietnam shows missing paint from the bow and lower hull. Do you suppose they used Kemtone?".
LIEUTENANT HARRY R. WHITE'S PARTING THOUGHT
"For most of us, it was our first encounter with a totally new way of life and the ever-present possibility of
instant annihilation. As some philosopher has said 'What doesn't kill you, strengthens you'. We think you'll
agree that our experiences -- good and bad -- aboard the USS ESCAMBIA left us all a bit stronger in spirit and
better able to cope with the ups and downs of civilian life."
LIINKS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT THE USS ESCAMBIA
The U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation Collection of the J.Y Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, has an extensive collection of Escambia materials donated by the family of Virgil D. Grier. The complete listing may is found at: http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/special/ead/findingaids/0677-038/ These materials have been archived and are kept in a climate-controlled vault at the Joyner library for use by researchers.
The Escambia County Historical Society in Alabama published a 6-page article in September, 2008, about the USS Escambia at http://www.escohis.org/echs_2009_05_15/pdf/2008_09_echoes.pdf
The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress, American Folklife Center www.loc.gov/vets has collected manuscripts, tapes, and videos of veterans.
The WWII Memorial: All of the Escambia crew have been entered on this registry. www.wwiimemorial.com