The Final Fight For Home

United States Army Medic/Private First-Class (PFC) Thomas Greene’s knuckles turned a ghastly white as he clung to the frame of his temporary cot. A cold sweat covered his pale face as his head and neck pulsated with pain from the clinching of his jaws and his rapid heartbeat. An overwhelming sense of nausea continuously swept over him as his body tried to determine left from right and up from down. The sounds and smells emanating from his 4,412 comrades and the lower deck of the ship certainly didn’t help the situation. He tightened the closure of his eyes, laid his head back and tried to remember the pleasantries of life; his wife, daughter, and his home in the hills of west-central Pennsylvania.

It was December 1945, and Operation Magic Carpet was in full motion. The transfer of millions of military troops and equipment from the World War II fields of battle was an enormous undertaking for the United States War Shipping Administration, and was not without its risks. Battleships, aircraft carriers, attack cruisers, and floating hospitals were all re-tasked to deliver GIs from around the world safely home to their family, friends, and communities. Operation Magic Carpet commenced in October of 1945, and now, after three and a half years of service with the Medical Detachment 355th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army’s 89th Division and a two month wait, it was PFC Greene’s turn to head from home. He opened his eyes once again and looked around the deck. He wondered if they would make it and if they had made the right decision.

On the 13th of December 1945, PFC Greene reported to the ports of Southampton, England for his final assignment to Operation Magic Carpet. It was a cold, brisk morning on the English coast, but nothing could distract the thousands of men who were waiting to embark on their journey home.  The line was long, but the wait would be worth it! After processing the final paperwork, he clutched the straps of his bag and walked towards the waiting ships. His eyes widened as he looked at his paperwork and looked up again. It was the largest ship he ever laid eyes on, and in spite of her numerous battles, wounds, scars, and refitting, she was here to carry him home…the United States Navy’s own Yorktown Class Aircraft Carrier – USS Enterprise CV-6!

The Enterprise’s reputation was second to none. Affectionately known as the “Big E”, the Enterprise was the final aircraft carrier (commissioned prior to World War II) to survive the war. Assigned to major Pacific battles, such as Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Doolittle Raids, this massive ship and her crew helped turn the tide of the war. Now, after a complete restoration, she offered herself as a transport of honor. The Enterprise, her crew, and 4,413 passengers departed Southampton on her second magic carpet mission, a mission that would test the courage, stamina, and strength of a GI just one final time.

A few days into the Trans-Atlantic journey, the Enterprise encountered a fierce oceanic storm, causing Captain William Rees and his crew to change course northward to Greenland; delaying the GI’s pre-holiday arrival. Frustration and anger set in and opposition to the course direction were voiced across the massive boat. Captain Rees and his officers met to discuss the situation. After nearly four years of war, the men longed to go home, especially for the holiday. Believing they could indeed navigate the raging sea, Captain Rees gave the order: Course correction, westward! The final fight was on!

PFC Greene opened his eyes once again and caught a glimpse at the outside conditions. Walls of water enveloped and washed over the decks of the mighty Enterprise. The boat rocked forwards and backwards, left to right, and then right to left. As the men groaned from the sickness enveloping their bodies, PFC Greene pulled a pre-deployment photo of his family from his top shirt pocket and held it closely to his heart. As a tear ran down his face, he once again closed his eyes and prayed a silent prayer. After three and a half years of survival, liberating men, women, children, and fellow soldiers from the atrocities of war, he needed to survive this final fight; he needed to go home.

On Monday, December 24, 1945, the USS Enterprise pulled into the docks of Bayonne, New Jersey. Lifeboats, jeeps, tanks, planes, and other equipment secured to the flight deck of the ship were all but gone, broken away and tossed into the sea by the ominous waves and prevailing winds of the storm. In their place stood 4,412 GIs, along with PFC Greene, who waved and cheered as they reached their final destination. They endured the battle, and now they were home.

On this Veterans Day, I salute Captain William Rees and his officers for successfully carrying out their mission and thank them for their leadership and courage in bringing home these thousands of soldiers and my Grandfather, PFC Thomas Greene.

©Copyright 2011 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

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