Logo by: Pat Stephens, Webmaster, DESA

The Day I Borrowed the Commandant’s Limo

By Andy Bisaccia


Andy Bisaccia
Whitehurst Service 1950-1952


The erstwhile warship, USS Whitehurst, had a stopover in Pearl Harbor in 1950 on the way to the Korean Forward Area for the purpose of taking on fuel, supplies and refurbishing the ship with red lead, gray paint, and new fittings. The crew collectively rolled up their sleeves and, with a lot of good old elbow grease, managed to smooth out the wrinkles of the old gal and give her a facelift to restore her to a semblance of her former youth. The ship had been preserved as part of the moth ball fleet in Green Cove Springs, Florida since World War II, and now it was being aired out for a stint of duty in another theater of conflict, and was about to write a new chapter in its combat history. Little did I dream that I would become engaged in one of the most unlikely personal dramas of my life which put into motion a series of events that were bizarre and incongruous, to say the least. 

 Allow me to digress a moment to tell you how fate intervened, and how I found myself a member of the crew on the way to many exciting and unexpected adventures. 

Shortly after I graduated from college in June of 1950, the Korean War broke out and a couple of months later I received a telegram from the War Department ordering me to report to active duty at the Destroyer Base in San Diego. I was a non-drill pay member in the inactive reserves, and had been assured upon enlistment following WWII that I would be called up only after the old men, women, children, and the lame. Boy, did they go through that list fast! In this case, I didn’t mind it a bit and I was raring to go. I was teaching at a school for brain- damaged children, and it turned out to be a noble pursuit but very demoralizing work. I felt this call to duty was divine intervention for my salvation from a fate worse than death. Ironically, all my friends who were active reservists attached to the Santa Barbara Naval Reserve never served in the Korean War because their unit never got called up. I actually felt sorry for them because I always relished an opportunity to have a new adventure. It had become a big part of my lifestyle whether by happenstance or fabrication. 

One day, during my short stint at the Destroyer Base while awaiting an assignment, I was ordered (nobody ever asks you to do anything in the service) to report to the classification office for an interview. I discovered that my old rate of MaM, Mailman, had since been changed to TeM, Teleman, and now included a composite of Teletype operator, mailman, and radarman. They cleverly managed to get three rates for the price of one. I was then told, I think with tongue in cheek, that since I was a veteran of WW II I had a choice of duty station. With a straight face, I informed the man that they may not want me because I was only going to be a tourist in uniform. The gentleman replied that they assured me that they needed my services, even as a tourist. “Okay that’s a deal”, I said, “In that case I would like to serve on a heavy cruiser in the Mediterranean.” He gave me a wry smile, and I audibly licked my chops as I visualized lounging around in the Navy’s Club Med surrounded by scantily clad chicks on one hand and a Bloody Mary in the other. Two days later the billet sheet was posted and there we were, all of us, amongst helpless moans and groans, assigned to ships going to the Forward Area, a euphemism for the Korean theater of hostilities where a bloody war was being fought. Surprise, surprise! And there for the first time I gazed upon the name of my new home for the duration with a twinge of disaffection, the USS Whitehurst DE 634. I guess the navy was adamant in its belief that before I would be allowed to board this floating germ contaminant chamber of horrors, I had to be immunized by a series of seven shots. Well, I had already gotten them the first day I reported to the base, and I was just now getting over the soreness and stiffness when I was informed that my shot record had gotten misplaced. So as not to relive the painful memory of what happened next, I will leave the outcome of that fiasco to your vivid imaginations. Stay tuned, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Now, let’s fast forward to Hawaii.   

While we were in Pearl, getting ready for a three day training exercise to put the ship and crew to the test, I was hanging out in the radio shack with some of my mates when a radio dispatch came through from Bupers stating that the Chief of Naval Operations was looking for seven men in the Pacific theater to fill openings in the General Line for Special Services, Designator 1635, Navy Intelligence. It instantly piqued my interest. I looked at the dispatch, and was somewhat amazed to learn that I could meet the qualifications. It stated that application could be made through the office of the Commandant of the 14th Naval District at Navy 128, Pearl Harbor.  If I hadn’t been in the radio shack when the message came through, I would have never known about the dispatch because it was never posted for the crew to see, as it was supposed to be according to the instructions.  

I had to have a game plan to get off the ship to look into the matter because I didn’t think I’d have the blessings of the “old man”. I figured he wouldn’t want any of his crew to come back to haunt him if they became Navy Intelligence, so he might dissuade any such action, especially in light of the fact that we had had a Navy Intelligence investigation on our ship in Pearl due to complaints about the chow. I felt he had ONI stuck in his craw, so discretion was in order. 

 The day the ship was going out on its training exercise presented me with the perfect opportunity to make my move. I sweet-talked the officer of the deck into letting me go ashore to pick up the personal and guard mail. That never required much arm-twisting and was more akin to a sucker punch. The mere mention of mail always gave me carte blanche to get off the ship. I put on my undress blues, strapped on my trusty 45 automatic sidearm, grabbed my leather mailbag and headed for the beach.  

With purposeful stride and firm determination to better my lot, I steered my way to the office of the Commandant of the 14th Naval District. Upon entering this sanctum sanctorum, a Marine sergeant in dress uniform sitting behind a desk greeted me and asked me the nature of my business.  I told him I was there to make application for one of the openings in Navy Intelligence. A booming voice from the inner office suddenly erupted, “ Sergeant, send that man in here.” I checked my sidearm with the Marine, and he escorted me into the presence of a portly admiral, the Commandant of the 14th Naval District! I saluted him and he told me to be seated. “Young man, what makes you think you qualify for Navy Intelligence?” he led off.

“Well, sir, we got a dispatch on board my ship stating there were seven openings in the Pacific Fleet open to anyone who felt he had the qualifications to apply. I looked them over and I feel that I can meet them.” 

“Alright then, we’ll send you down to Intelligence Headquarters in Honolulu for a preliminary interview to ascertain if you do meet the requirements.” He then called out to the sergeant who promptly appeared at the doorway, “ Call Navy Intelligence downtown and tell them That I’m sending down an applicant for screening within the hour whose name is Andrew Bisaccia, a petty officer attached to the Whitehurst. Also, have my car brought around to the curb. Instruct the driver to take Bisaccia to Naval Intelligence Headquarters and to bring him back to the base when he has taken care of his business.”  

With that, the admiral strode over to a filing cabinet, opened the drawer, and pulled out a navy neckerchief. He said, “Here, you’ll need this to get out the gate. Good luck on your interview.” I thanked him and he shook my hand. I saluted, and departed for the next leg of my adventure into the unknown. 

The Marine escorted me down the stairs to the waiting black limo with the admiral’s flags fluttering on the front fenders. I climbed into the backseat, and the limo headed for the front gate. I think I was in a state of partial shock because I couldn’t quite grasp the reality of what was happening to a lowly white hat sitting in the back seat of the commandant’s own private limo being escorted by a Marine driver in full uniform to the office of Navy Intelligence. The thought did run through my head that the navy must be pretty damned hard up. As we approached the front gate to Pearl, the two Marines on guard snapped to attention and smartly brought their rifles up to a salute. That was back in the days before tinted windows. Of course, they thought they were saluting the admiral until the car pulled abreast of them. Their jaws literally dropped, and they displayed a wide-eyed look of disbelief and utter astonishment as they gazed at me propped up in the back seat, pretty as you please,  with my white hat and undress blues and the grin of a Cheshire cat to further perplex them. I often reflect on what went through their minds. I wonder how many times they have told this story, like me, over the last fifty plus years. I’ll bet that made teetotalers out of some of them. 

We pulled up to the front of a very non-descript looking building near downtown Honolulu. The Marine driver hopped out and held the door open for me. This must have presented a bizarre scene to any passerby.  That goes without saying. Perhaps anyone who witnessed this anomaly looked upon it as a conundrum that begged an answer and defied all logic. It probably passed through the minds of some that I was an undercover agent in some kind of sub rosa operation for Navy Intelligence and had come in out of the cold, as I strode nonchalantly into the Honolulu headquarters of ONI and was cordially greeted by a broad grinned WAVE secretary. 

After stating my business, I was asked to take a seat. Shortly, a navy commander emerged and asked me to accompany him to his office. He spent a few minutes putting me at ease and making small talk.  Then he got down to business. We discussed the qualifications and if I could meet them. Once it was decided that I could meet the requirements, he had me fill out an application. Afterwards he looked it over and had me sign it. Then he had the secretary write a letter to my skipper, Captain Evans, apprising him of what was transpiring and to have him write a letter to the commanding officer of the USS Haven, hospital ship at Pearl, to have me undergo a complete medical examination for a commissioned grade in the General Line for Special Services. Subsequent to this exam, I was to report to ONI in Honolulu for two interviews on consecutive days. 

I could have predicted that Evans would treat me with kid gloves once he got the news I was a candidate for Navy Intelligence. He seemed quite amenable to the order. It suddenly seemed that if anyone had the slightest taint of Navy Intelligence lingering about him that he became an untouchable. He actually congratulated me and wrote the letter to the commanding officer of the Haven which I took with me the next day when I reported for my physical exam.  

Aboard the Haven, I was turned over to a team of three doctors who gave me a thorough going over from bow to stern looking for any physical defects which would instantly eliminate me and likely send me back to face the music.  As it turned out, with a great sigh of relief, they could find nothing amiss with the physical part of me after a great deal of probing, poking, sticking, x-raying, listening, thumping, blood-letting, urinating, and pricking. They found me to be in excellent physical condition, much to my surprise, BUT it was like they had to find some flaw, albeit one that could be corrected. They agreed that I had a weak hernia wall on my left side that needed to be reinforced surgically because it might just give out, I suppose, when wrestling 250 pound spies to the ground or grunting too hard on the john. Once that was out of the way, I was ready for the next step in the process—my interviews. 

I reported the following day back to ONI headquarters in Honolulu. I was shown into a room where two naval officers in uniform and a civilian in a suit sat on a dais at the end of the room. I was asked to come forward and to take a seat in a chair close to the panel of interviewers. The civilian sat between the two naval officers and appeared to be in charge. After introductions were made all around, and I was put at ease, the questioning began. As it turned out, the civilian was none other than Thomas Braden, one of the directors of the CIA, who I presumed was passing through Hawaii and was probably asked to head up the interview for whatever reason. 

Thomas Braden was the Director of International Organization for the CIA and their chief propagandist. Paradoxically, somewhere down the line, he was the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He also later wrote the popular weekly TV serial, Eight is Enough, and produced it. It told of the bittersweet raising of his eight children when the mother passed away. Seventeen years later I taught his son David at Thacher School in Ojai. As a result, I had the opportunity to meet Thomas Braden once again, and I was surprised that he remembered me and the interview he presided over many years before.  

As I sat in the hot seat, I was asked questions obviously inquiring into my philosophy of life, knowledge, loyalties, astuteness, and problem solving abilities. Mind you, I was only twenty-three years old and still wet behind the ears. Pretty heady stuff for one so young. Perhaps my elderly parents had imbued me with worldly wisdom. I was asked questions all the way from did I think that communism could be a viable form of government for countries such as China, as to what I would do to uncover disloyalties in the high command and how I would handle it. One of the members of the board noticed on my application that I had listed I was an Eagle Scout. The interview suddenly took on an informal tone and completely different tangent as all three of my inquisitors became animated as they reminisced about their scouting days with great fondness. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised that they too were Eagle Scouts. For a moment we all reveled in each other’s common bond and became equals. My anxiety level was diminished, tensions were eased, and suddenly a rapport existed that wasn’t there before.   

Following two days of intensive grilling the interview came to an end, and  I was asked to step from the room while deliberations were underway to determine my fate. After about thirty minutes, I was asked to return to face the verdict. I was warmly greeted, my hand shaken vigorously, and hearty congratulations offered by the illustrious triumvirate. I had passed the test with flying colors. Needless to say, I breathed a sigh of relief.  

I was then told that orders would be issued to my commanding officer instructing him to temporarily relieve me of duty aboard ship to report to Tripler Army Hospital for corrective surgery pursuant to my being processed as a candidate for Navy Intelligence. 

The next day I packed gear into my sea bag, put on my dress blues, bid adieu to my shipmates, headed down the gangway and off to Moanalua Ridge where Tripler Army Hospital is situated a few miles out of Honolulu. Upon arriving at Tripler, I was assigned to a ward, given a bed, and issued hospital garb that I used mostly as pajamas. 

There were about eight beds in the ward that seemed to be reserved for veterans who needed treatment, or people like myself who were on active duty and were a special case. The man who occupied the bed next to me was a Japanese American Hawaiian by the name of Clarence Koike, a veteran of WWII who was a Nisei who served in Italy and had sustained some pretty serious wounds. He had checked in for some periodical repair work and maintenance. We hit it off right away and became good friends. His mother and father would come on Sunday and pick him up. He and they invited me to join them. They took me to a Buddhist Temple in the Moana Valley where I was a spectator at their worship service. Afterwards we adjourned to their home where we shed our shoes at the front door, old country style, before entering. They prepared a fine Japanese meal followed by an interesting discussion after which we were returned to the hospital. It was a memorable experience. I came to learn at a young age that all peoples and cultures have much in common where we can find comfort zones of discourse and agreement. 

The weeks rolled by and I became a persona non grata. I didn’t feel it was my place to speak up and sound any alarms. After all, I was just a young swab jockey with no clout. I figured when they were ready they would get around to me. Besides, I was having a good time, so while spoil good thing?   In the meantime, I was completely ignored. I did give them fair warning that I was only going to be a tourist in uniform when they called me back to duty. I had to be true to my word. I would try my best to keep my promise. 

I would come and go as I pleased and nobody ever said boo to me. I took in movies at the hospital’s movie theater, went swimming in the pool, sunning on the deck, playing cards in the dining room, hanging out at the snack bar, frequented the pool room, kicked back in the library, and went on liberty to Waikiki. 

 While I was in Pearl Harbor I ran into Steve Arrellanes one day in the chow line. I was Steve’s old patrol leader when he was a member of the Copperhead Patrol in Troop 11 Santa Barbara. Steve was an Airedale in the Marine Corps air wing stationed at Pearl Harbor. He would fly home almost every weekend on space available. When he returned, he would come to the hospital and bring me care packages and letters from my parents. He and I often went on liberty and had many good times going around the island having adventures. On Christmas day we ran into a group of older wealthy Americans on one of our excursions to the windward side of the island. They were staying at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki and invited to join them for dinner. We both snapped up the invitation because Steve and I were both feeling homesick and depressed, but thanks to these gracious people who took pity on us it turned out to be a glorious day. Mele Kalikimaka! 

As I remember, our ship pulled out of Pearl in January heading for Korea. I was the only member from our ship who stayed behind and watched the ship pull away from the dock. The ship was given a glorious aloha by beautiful Hawaiian girls who did the hula while accompanied by guitars and vocalists. My movie camera captured this memorable event in living color for posterity over a half century ago. 

About three weeks after I checked into Tripler, I was kicking back on my bed making a square knot belt from parachute shrouds supplied by Marine buddy, Steve. An Army surgeon in green operating room attire, referred to as a Green Hornet, happened through the ward and caught me lollygagging. He wanted to know why I was occupying a bed when there were wounded stacked up in the hallways flown in from Korea with blood caked clothes and IV’s stuck in their arms waiting for a bed and clean sheets? I suppose that after considerable stuttering and stammering, I told him why I was there. He abruptly turned to the nurse in charge and told her to prep me that evening and prepare me for surgery in the morning.  

Following the surgery, they gave me a whole day to recuperate. Then, it was up and out of bed joining a group of convalescents on the lawn outside for exercises in the rain. The day after that, they had me pushing a bucket on a chair down a hallway swabbing the deck and polishing it with a buffing machine. The military can be a humbling experience. 

A week or so later I found myself a passenger on the baby flat top, USS Cape Esperance, heading for Bangkok to deliver Marine trainer aircraft to the Thai Air Force. After a couple of days in sin city, we headed for Yokosuka Naval Receiving Station where I was put on board another naval vessel destined for Pusan where I subsequently rejoined my ship and buddies in Pusan Harbor. I believe there were those in the crew who never knew I had been gone. 

The Whitehurst was eventually assigned to duty in the Yellow Sea where we served for several months. During that time, I received a communiqué from the Chief of Naval Operations that was delivered to me in person by Lt. Alsover. By signing on the line I would be accepting the appointment. I was to be decommissioned an enlisted man and commissioned an officer with orders to be put ashore at the nearest naval facility and be sent under orders to Washington, D.C. By this time, I was at the top of the list for discharge since I was a hardship case. We were told that we were all in for the duration and it looked like the war might go on for a protracted period. Much to our surprise and delight, the war was winding down and the end was in sight. Simply put, I decided that my aging, ailing parents needed me at home more than Navy Intelligence needed me, so I opted to get out. Ironically, Lt. Alsover was fit to be tied because, as it turned out, his big aspiration was to be in Navy Intelligence and his application had been turned down several times. I could understand his feelings. If circumstances had been different I would have seized the opportunity without hesitation. I felt extremely sorry for all that I had put the Navy through, including the screening that was a big part of the qualifying process. 

Seventeen years later, I applied for Naval Intelligence, the civilian branch of Navy Intelligence. I passed with flying colors and became a Naval Intelligence Agent with a GS 14 rating, which gave me the rank of commander whenever I was in uniform. But that’s another story for a later time. 

Andy Bisaccia has contributed several  stories to the Whitehurst Web site:
Pusan Flashbacks is the most recent. Other stories by Andy: Escapades of Andy and Harry in Kyushu, The Day I Borrowed the Commandant's Limo, The Navy Way, The Great Engine Heist, Toothache, and a Great deal of material on "Jimmy" Pon Sun See, the Korean boy adopted by the Whitehurst crew in Pusan. You can learn more about Andy at this link.
Andy's Bio Sketch

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