Frank Nelson

Frank Nelson

Army pigeon lays egg on destroyer

Humorous recount of life aboard the USS Foote

By Wilbur V. Rogers

The USS FOOTE (DD-511) was patrolling the entrance to Lingayen Gulf and it was a little over two months since I-Day (Invasion Day) of Luzon at Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945. Most of the invasion ships have gone back south, approximately 1,200 of all types.

During the night of March 12th the seas get pretty rough. The Quartermaster of the watch said they logged 50-knot winds. That would be about a Force-5 storm with moderate waves, becoming longer with white caps. By reveille on the 13th we wake up to a sea that is deceptively rough - not choppy - just long smooth swells that set these top-heavy tin cans (Navy destroyers) rolling like an empty barrel, particularly at this 12-knot patrol speed. At breakfast the Mess Deck is in shambles.

Shortly after the 8 a.m. watch is relieved a pigeon lands on the port side splash shield of the bridge - that is strange since we are out of sight of any land. The bird appears oblivious to all the activity on the bridge and shows no inclination to fly away. Captain Ramsay, intrigued by the bird, thought it was a good omen. The subject of what to feed the pigeon came up. Either Seaman John Kearns or Quartermaster Bill Patsos told the captain that Radioman Frank Nelson (now an AFRH resident) was a pigeon expert - he raised carrier pigeons before the war. The word was passed for Frank to report to the bridge. Frank walked directly up to the bird and picked it up. He knew exactly how to place his thumb and forefinger around the bird's legs that was normal, comfortable and familiar to him or her. There was a U.S. Army band on the pigeon's leg and it was obvious this was not the first time it had been handled.

Speculation on the bridge was the pigeon was blown off course by the foul weather and found itself at sea, became tired,and the FOOTE was the nearest solid place to land. The question of the bird's sex was discussed and since Frank was the expert the captain asked him and Frank said it really wasn't easy to tell but he thought it was a “cock.” Someone immediately named him Paddy. Frank crushed some dried peas and corn for feed and provided a bowl of water. It appeared the bird had found a home and never ventured from the ship's bridge day or night. Frank lost considerable credibility when “Paddy” laid an egg on the bridge during her third night aboard. So much for our pigeon “expert.” Guess the name is now “Pattie.”

It was amazing how much refuge came out of that pigeon from the small amount it was fed and she was completely indiscriminate about where she made deposits. There was always an abundance of rags on the bridge available to all hands to police the area. The pigeon liked to perch on the captains’ chair on the port side of the bridge and anyone present would be ill advised to let a deposit remain on that chair too long. In reality, the pigeon wasn't winning any popularity points with the bridge watch, but the captain liked that bird, so what could they do? The lookouts spent about as much time looking for pigeon deposits as they did looking for “bogies” (Japanese planes).

Maybe the bird would turn out to be an asset after all. The next time Kamikazes threatened our illusions of immortality we could send Pattie up as a diversion and maybe cause some confusion.

Or if near land she could be sent up to retaliate on the Japanese ground troops. This may give the clean-up crew on the bridge a little relief.

Pattie remained on the ship apparently with no desire to leave, but we have not had occasion to fire the guns since she reported aboard. We don't know how she will react to combat.

On March 24th we are relieved of the patrol duty at the entrance of the gulf and steam into Lingayen anchorage and drop the hook. Part of the crew got Liberty ashore with two cans of green beer each - what a deal. Pattie didn't go ashore. Four guys missed the last boat back to the ship and one is reported to be bound for Manila. It was a disaster. Captain Ramsay spent about four hours with the S.O.P.A. (Senior Officer Present Afloat) trying to explain the unexplainable crew conduct. He was not a happy sailor. No more liberty for the FOOTE crew at Lingayen - not a big loss.

We weigh anchor on March 26th and sail south for Subic Bay on the west coast of the Philippines just north of Bataan Peninsular. We stay at Subic Bay two days and on March 29th we are underway for Leyte, escorting the Amphibious Force Flagship, USS ROCKY MOUNT (AGC-3).

At mid-morning on March 31st we enter San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf, and tie up alongside the Destroyer Tender, USS WHITNEY (AD-4) for about 30 minutes availability.

When the lines were singled-up in preparation to leave the WHITNEY the captain asked where Pattie was. No one on the bridge knew. The captain gave the order to make the lines fast to WHITNEY again because the bird may have changed ships.

Probably 100 crewmembers on the FOOTE and a like number on the WHITNEY were looking for Pattie. The search went on for about 40 minutes with no luck. The WHITNEY is very busy and has ships waiting to get alongside. We cast off and head for our assigned anchorage.

There was a lot of speculation about what happened to Pattie. The two most popular was that the mid-watch in the Fire Room on the WHITNEY would be dining on squab this night or while the bridge crew was occupied getting alongside the WHITNEY and since we were near land, Pattie simply took her leave and flew away, unnoticed. I subscribe to the latter.

If any of you have access to a FOOTE Cruise Book you will find a picture of Pattie and Frank Nelson on Page 66, second photo down on the right side.