Since 1936, American military officers had been serving in the Philippines, organizing and training Filipino troops. When the threat of war in the Pacific increased, the Philippine Army was ordered into the regular service of the U.S. Army. Finally, in July, 1941, American enlisted troops were sent to the Philippines to further assist with the training of Filipinos and to prepare for the defense of the islands. Mario Machi was among those sent to the Philippines … – Harold Stephens
GOODBYE FRISCO, HELLO SOUTH PACIFIC
At 2:30 p.m., we boarded Tasker H. Bliss, formerly President Cleveland, a grand old luxury liner that had seen better and happier days. Gone were its luster and polish; it was now repainted and converted into a troop transport that carried 5,000 officers and men, crammed into tight quarters with pipe bunk beds stacked eight high. Our quarters were aft about three flights down in a converted freight hold. Sailing with us was Williard A. Holbrook, formerly President Taft, another converted liner bearing the same dismal grey color. A band played “Anchors Away” and a large crowd gathered on the dock shouting and waving to wish well and to send us on our way. Some men threw their garrison caps to the pretty girls on shore. We left at 5:30 that afternoon and the two ships sailed together through the Golden Gate and embarked for Hawaii, our first stop en route to the Philippines.
An hour after we left the Golden Gate we encountered rough seas and a strong wind out of the northwest. Soon most of the men were heaving over the railing. I did not feel so good myself but I was fortunate that I didn’t have to heave like the others.
Seeing the others did remind me of my first voyage on the open sea. It had been aboard a drag boat out of San Francisco for Shelter Cove along the northern California coast. Due to bad weather, what would normally have been a seventeen-hour voyage, took us twenty-four. Before leaving the dock in San Francisco, we had each eaten a bowl of the captain’s salmon soup, and although I had followed a friend’s suggestion and nibbled on soda crackers and chewed a lemon, I became deathly seasick before we passed through the Golden Gate. The sickness remained with me throughout the trip, and it wasn’t until
I had been ashore for some time that I felt normal again. To this day, I can taste the salmon soup that nauseated me then.
Now, as I watched my sick comrades aboard the Bliss, I remembered how weak and wobbly I had been as I climbed up the ladder and stood on the pier at Shelter Cove that beautiful day. I can still recall the exact date, May 22, 1930. The boat that brought us was owned by the San Francisco International Fish Company, a company my father, Petro Machi, helped start back in 1908. He was still a stockholder then in the company.
Although I was only sixteen at the time, I was deeply impressed with Shelter Cove. As I studied the rugged coastline and the cove itself, I marveled at the spectacular scenery. I even thought how fine it would be to have a seaside resort there one day.
The trip to Honolulu took five days. Every day I played my accordion, usually on deck beneath the shade of a lifeboat, and often with a trumpet player, I met on board. Some days we had work assignments, chipping paint and scrubbing the decks. We saw flying fish and had our first blackout, which lasted twenty minutes. The weather was balmy and so hot in the holds we were forced to sleep without blankets or clothes.
It was October 9th, my birthday, that Tasker H. Bliss rounded the southeastern tip of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands and Diamond Head came into view. Soldiers crowded the railing and joked about seeing coconuts, pineapples and hula girls. In the distance five or six planes circled in the sky. We entered a narrow channel that opened up into a wide port as big as a lake. All about we could see powerful battle wagons, destroyers and their escorts and a couple of carriers either at anchor and or else moored along the docks. The sailors aboard who had been here before called the place Pearl Harbor. “A good liberty port,” they told us. Some asked if the name comes because there are pearls in the harbor. With excitement, we talked about our shore leave. We were assured of leave and each man had dressed in his cleanest suntan outfit, ready to rush down the gangplank the moment we docked.
As we came alongside the dock, a band started playing and we could see hula girls dancing on the pier. We were excited beyond words. Our first port-of-call. But when a destroyer came and tied up alongside us, I sensed something was wrong. And sure enough, I was right, for as we lined the deck, waiting for the gangplank to be lowered, a voice came over the loudspeaker. It was the commanding officer. He announced that no one was to leave the ship. Our sailing time had been set for 5:00 the following morning. The men were terribly disappointed. They voiced their disapproval by grumbling and making nasty remarks. The band stopped playing, the hula girls disappeared and a cordon of M.P.s now lined the dock. The order was meant to be enforced. This was as close as I ever came to the Hawaiian Islands.