A FEW GOOD MEN
Long before this familiar phrase became intimately associated with the warriors of the United States Marine Corps, it could have easily have been applied to the 5th Division, USS WEST POINT, composed entirely of Marines. A Ship's Organization manual, dated 1 October 1944 indicates that the total ship's complement at that time was 772 officers and enlisted men. The 5th Division - better known as the ship's Marine Detachment - was composed of a 1st Lieutenant, two non-commissioned officers and 66 enlisted personnel. Their duties are summarized by this excerpt from the manual:
Elsewhere in that publication, more details as to Many additional duties are provided. The most conspicuous duty was serving as the Captain's orderlies around the clock. Their normal duty post, was in the forward most cross-passage just outside his office and cabin's doors on Sun Deck. When the Captain was on the bridge, or anywhere else onboard AP-23, a Marine was always nearby.
Division also was responsible for manning and maintaining the 1.1-75MM antiaircraft weapons surmounted atop the bridge wing enclosures that flanked the wheelhouse, and for four additional weapons - 20MM located further aft, near the #2 funnel. A part of the Sports Deck between the funnels, where peacetime passengers played handball, was the Marine Detachment's assigned 'Parade' and Exercise Area.
The men of 5th Division also stood watch at gangways and on piers, while in port, and maintained a 24-hour watch in the ship's fire control station. Many other security-related duties naturally fell to the WEST POINT's Marine Detachment. By far, the most challenging duties placed in their capable hands was keeping an eye on prisoners being transported from Europe to the United States. On one voyage, from Liverpool to Boston in October of 1944, over 4,000 POW's were embarked, requiring additional ship's personnel to augment the Marine Detachment's guard duties. Which probably displeased the 'few good men' of WEST POINT; confident they could handle the dispirited lot of Germans and Italians, regardless of their numbers.
5th Division's berthing area, midships on B Deck was created by removing some peacetime non-watertight bulkheads that once provided privacy to pampered passengers in staterooms for two. Like other enlisted men onboard the WEST POINT, the Marines didn't have much privacy, and what little space they did have was surrounded by bunks, three tiers high.
For a number of months, 5th Division onboard AP-23 included two Marines named McLaughlin - no relation - but a source of perhaps some confusion. But the Marines knew very well which was which. Fred McLaughlin, who now lives in Charlotte, NC, was the top sergeant. He is as dapper and as squared away today as he was over six decades ago.
Gene McLaughlin was a PFC for most of his time onboard the WEST POINT, attaining the rank of sergeant before leaving the ship in late 1945.
Gene the Marine is one of the USS WEST POINT Reunion Association's most active and faithful members, and currently is Vice President of this great organization. He frequently provides poster-sized memorabilia, at his own expense, to his shipmates and their families whenever and wherever WEST POINT reunions are held.
No man stood taller or more proud than Gene did in his hometown of Pittsburgh at the 2002 Reunion when a group of Marines in dress blues briefly joined the party and in sincere tribute to the men of WEST POINT sang
the Marine Hymn - and Anchors Aweigh. Their presence was unexpected, but very welcome, and everyone present was very surprised. Except Gene...