Every old sailor is familiar with the “Magic Carpet” business at the end of World War II when personnel were ferried back to the States from both Europe and the Pacific. As early as 1943, the Pentagon began contingency planning for returning millions of personnel from overseas whenever victory was won. It was an enormous task, sardonically cited by cartoonist Bill Mauldin who showed the everyman GIs Willie and Joe sulking at an embarkation port: “I don’t remember no delays getting us over here.”
The first “Magic Carpet” ships left Europe in June 1945, barely a month after VE Day. With the Navy fully committed to the Pacific, most of the shipping came from the Merchant Marine or the U.S. Army, carrying some 430,000 men to the East Coast per month.
Fleet aircraft carriers were popular Magic Carpet rides, as they could accommodate 3,000 or more returnees. The brand new Essex class ship, Lake Champlain (CV-39), was modified for Atlantic use, and the battle-scarred, invaluable Enterprise (CV-6) made Carpet cruises in both directions.
After Japan’s unexpected capitulation in September, the Navy swung into action with ships to spare. Some 350 Pacific Fleet vessels were employed, everything from transports and hospital ships to battleships and cruisers. Meanwhile, 29 transports shuttled from the Far East, delivering China-Burma-India veterans to loved ones.
Whatever the type of ship, the accommodations were steerage class. Bunks were welded three, four, and even five high, with round the clock meal schedules. Water—always at a premium aboard ship—was strictly rationed. Said more than one serviceman, “When we walked off that boat we were pretty rank— but nobody cared!”
The transatlantic movement went both ways. With Magic Carpet ships being empty eastbound, more than 400,000 German and Italian prisoners were repatriated, however rubble-strewn their nations may have been. The task was completed by early 1946.
Many ships, including Yorktown were pressed into the “bring em home” service. Yorktown’s participation began on October 1, 1945 when she left Tokyo back for Okinawa. She arrived in Buckner Bay on October 4, loaded passengers, and got under way for the States on October 6.
After a non-stop voyage, she entered San Francisco on October 20, moored at the Alameda Naval Air Station, and began discharging passengers. She remained at the air station until October 31 at which time she shifted to Hunters Point Navy Yard to complete minor repairs. On November 2, while still at the navy yard, she reported to the Service Force, Pacific Fleet, for duty in conjunction with the return of American servicemen to the United States. That same day, she stood out of San Francisco Bay, bound for Guam on just such a mission. She arrived in Apra Harbor on November 15 and, two days later, got underway with a load of passengers. She arrived back in San Francisco on November 30. On 8 December, she headed back to the Far East. Initially routed to Samar in the Philippines, she was diverted to Manila en route. She arrived in Manila on 26 December and departed there on 29 December. She reached San Francisco again on 13 January 1946.
Ed’s note: For a great first person account of the WW II Magic Carpet runs of Yorktown, check out Willie Lagarde’s piece at http://www.ussyorktownstories. com/Magic-Carpet.htm.
During World War II, many carriers returning to “Indian Country” after a yard period in the States, also served to transport material and aircraft.
At the outbreak of the Korean War, the USS Boxer, (CV-21) was pressed into service to carry planes to the fighting. On July 23, 1950 she completed a record crossing of the Pacific from Alameda, CA Yokosuka, Japan in 8 1/2 days, carrying 145 P-51 Mustang and six L-5 aircraft for the Air Force, 19 navy planes, 1,012 troops and 2,000 tons of supplies.
Later in 1965, she was used as a transport vessel for the Vietnam War. The carrier transported 200 helicopters of the US Army’s 1st Calvary Division to South Vietnam. She made a second trip to Vietnam in early 1966 when she transported Marine Corps aircraft to South Vietnam. However, she did not participate in combat operations during that war. The Valley Forge LPH8, converted from its CV configuration also ferried helos to Vietnam in the late 1960s.
Now for the real story, Magic Carpet II, with input from some of those who rode her. Martin Bravo, George Brubaker, Dean Peterson, and David English. The artistic rendering below is from the July-August 1965 issue of the Town Crier and I believe that this is the sketch I remember being painted on the Bay 2 side of the sliding fire doors between Hangar Bays 1 and 2. All I remember is the track of the ship. I don’t recall specifically that the “magic carpet” was included. The following is an excerpt from the Historical Report for U.S.S. Yorktown (CVS-10) for period 1 January 1965 to 31 December 1965, from the Commanding Officer, U.S.S. Yorktown (CVS-10) to Chief of Naval Operations (OP- 201SH), and dated 10 Jan 1966: On 14 July 1965, Yorktown left CONUS with orders to carry vitally needed material to the South China Sea in an operation which the crew dubbed “MAGIC CARPET II” because it resembled in reverse the return of military personnel from overseas by the Fighting Lady at the end of World War II. Yorktown left Long Beach for San Diego where she on-loaded material and then departed for Subic Bay, the Philippines, where she arrived the 2nd of August. After off-loading all material on board at Subic Bay, Yorktown departed on the 3rd August 1965 enroute to CONUS. On the way back she stopped over at Yokosuka 7-11 August 1965, and then proceeded to San Francisco, where she arrived the 20th of August. On the 23rd Yorktown departed San Francisco and steamed to San Diego, arriving on the 24th and then up to Long Beach the same day.
The July-August 1965 edition of The Town Crier, ship’s newspaper, was a cruise book type of edition, which covered “Operation Magic Carpet II,” the short cruise of July-August 1965.
The “Crier” piece goes on to explain why the Yorktown was chosen to ferry the needed material and equipment to support commitments in Southeast Asia in the following quote: “Why was the Fighting Lady chosen for this task – particularly after having returned from a normal tour in the Far East only two months ago? Every consideration was given and each possible circumstance was looked into and weighted before the final decision was made. Of prime consideration, of course, is the tremendous record of accomplishment that has been compiled by the Fighting Lady. It is well know throughout the fleet that when a job requires the utmost in skill and dedication, the determined efforts of a professional crew, the call goes first to YORKTOWN — the BEST!
That all may be, but one cannot wonder what the count would have been by a vote of the crew.
Some input from former crewmembers:
From George Brubaker:
Art I remember barrels of this stuff on the after hanger deck but didn’t get any photos of it…All I know is that we transported it and that one shipmate died of cancers caused by him being dowsed with it while aboard ship. Actually 2 shipmates were dowsed at the same time. I believe the other guy is still alive but is bedridden and lives somewhere in CA. -George.
From Martin Bravo:
Regarding WWII Magic Carpet: Not well-known is that the repatriation of Americans back to the States was not limited to military personnel only. Every and all Americans, military and civilian, were extended invitations to get home courtesy of Uncle Sam’s Navy. Some of my family members, neighbors, and friends embarked in Manila to take the trip back home. There were family friends who worked at the American Embassy and other U.S. corporations that were stranded in the Philippines when war broke out with the Japanese who also returned home via those Magic Carpet transports. Included with them were stragglers of the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Navy who took to the mountains and remote areas to lead the guerrilla fighting and skirmishes against the occupying enemy forces. Also going home via the Magic Carpet operation were survivors of the Bataan Death March and the American civilians who were held at the concentration camp at the University of Santo Tomas. (U.S.T. is a university that was founded by the Spanish Dominicans and was confiscated by the enemy and made into a concentration camp. Incidentally, it is an old, established school, founded before our Harvard University.) Side story: One of my American friends and classmates was interred with this family at the U.S.T. concentration camp. Sad ending. His dad died there the night before MacArthur liberated Manila and set all the Americans free. A great family. Great Americans. Regarding 1965 Vietnam – Yorktown Magic Carpet: As your article pointed out, it was somewhat of a surprise that we were ordered back to WesPac territory so soon after arriving from operations there. For me, it was a pleasant surprise. I was due to finish my Navy gig in September 1965 and thought the end of my sailing days were over. So glad to have been on the Magic Carpet cruise and sail once more aboard the good ol’ Yorkie Maru to the Philippines and Japan. As for the cargo we delivered and off-loaded at Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, I can remember carrying a multitude of aircraft. More specifically, I remember the large number of F-4 Phantom and A-7 Corsair aircraft tied down in the hanger bay and atop on the flight deck. These aircraft as you may recall were larger and heavier than the A-4 Skyhawk fighter planes we had on the Yorktown. Our ship could never have been able to launch them if we tried. Clearly, they were “For Delivery Only.” I saw a couple of the A-7’s rigged with large photo lenses and was informed they were used for reconnaissance missions. Also in the hanger deck were large number of crates and a very large number of steel drums. Some with stripes the color of orange on them. They had the peculiar smell of chemicals or fertilizer used in farms.Very different from the “normal” odors of aviation fuel, cleaning solvents, and oil that we would encounter daily on the ship. (I was told later on that these were drums of Agent Orange bound for Vietnam.) I remember bringing back a large group of new Navy recruits who had signed-up at our Sangley Point Naval Base located to the south of Manila Bay. They were bound for boot camp at San Diego. I didn’t know whether to feel glad or sorry for them knowing that they had to get through boot camp which, as we know, was not exactly a picnic. That’s it for now, ol’ buddy. Please feel free to edit, add and/or delete any of the information above. I’ll see if I can find some of my old notes and get back to you if I find more information. I’ll try to do so by this weekend. (Barring any other emergencies.) Smooth Sailing, Martin. (Gonzo-san, former Yorktown sailor)
From Martin Bravo:
Hi Art. Yes the colored drums contained Agent Orange. I got an email from one of our shipmates, Roger Lepel, who was being treated for cancer at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis, MN due to his exposure to Agent Orange on the ship. Some aircrew member, who was loading Agent Orange on an aircraft in the hanger bay, accidentally spilled the stuff on Roger as he was walking across the hanger bay. Roger sent me an email to confirm this. Sadly, I was informed that he passed away a couple of years ago. Because of my current cancer condition and because I was not a smoker, drinker, or drug user, I have asked the VA about exposure to chemicals on the ship, including Agent Orange and Trichlorethylene, possibly causing my health problems. One of the guys in the catapult crew, whom I met at one of our reunions, told us that we carried napalm and how carefully they loaded it on the aircraft and very watchful when launching the aircraft. I didn’t even know we had the napalm. Hope all is well. Smooth Sailing. Martin
From Dean Peterson:
Ah, the 1965 Magic Carpet cruise….a subject that is somewhat elusive; is rarely discussed these days even amongst Yorktown shipmates; and, if it does come up in conversation, it is usually only by the few who happen to be around when it took place. It probably was misnamed…at least almost all WWII vets I have talked to about the subject think so. In their minds there is … and has ever been … only one Magic Carpet cruise and that one was accomplished by an armada of ships (including the Yorktown) that brought back all of our fighting men and women from the Pacific at the end of WWII. In defense of us lowly sailors aboard the Yorktown the summer of 1965 sitting at Pier Echo in Long Beach, California, the United States Navy requested our participation in what they called a Magic Carpet cruise. Yes, that’s what they called it. Therefore that’s what we (who were at the time faithful servants of the United States Navy) called it. So, about the 1965 Magic Carpet cruise… Dates are fuzzy for me in my old age, especially when trying to recall what took place over 50 years ago so when it comes to dates and sequence of events I won’t be specific. We had just returned to CONUS (Continental United States) from the 64’ – 65’ WesPac cruise (I believe around mid’-May, 1965. As was common back in the day, at the conclusion of a WesPac cruise, most of the ship’s company crew was allowed up to 30 days of leave, but split between two groups, over a 60 day period. This meant that during the months of June/July there was basically a skeleton crew left aboard ship.was one who opted to forego leave and remain aboard. If I remember right, we got word in mid/late June that Yorktown was to participate in a rapidly needed resupply effort to support the Vietnam War, which had been escalating over the summer of 1965. The basic mission was to load supplies aboard Yorktown, including new aircraft; haul them to the Far East; drop off the aircraft and supplies in Subic Bay, Phillippines; reload the ship with shot-up aircraft so they could be returned back to the CONUS and parts could be salvaged for future support of aircraft in Vietnam. So, that’s what we did and it was officially called the Magic Carpet cruise of 1965. From my perspective, there were quite a few unique and interesting circumstances about this cruise. First of all, as I mentioned above, when the word first came down about the Magic Carpet cruise the ship was very quiet in that at least half the ship’s company was still on leave and had no idea that almost as soon as they returned we would be deploying. Quite a shock for that group of sailors. Secondly, because we were basically becoming a freighter there was no need to bring the flight crews on board. That felt real strange during our first few days out at sea during Magic Carpet. Good news was that chow lines were almost nonexistent and noise levels were way down with no flight operations. Another thing that was unusual during Magic Carpet was the ship mostly went in a straight line during the entire cruise. This was very much unlike our normal carrier operations when we would often change heading for flight operations regardless of our course. If I remember right, our itinerary was to depart Long Beach and go down to San Diego where we picked up our cargo at North Island. The next day we left for Hawaii and arrived in Pearl Harbor 5/6 days later. We were in Pearl for just a day to refuel. In fact our stay was so short they restricted liberty to just Ford Island. Even at that there was quite a bash held at a hanger on Ford Island where a beer blast and love fist (I mean fest) was held between our sailors and marines. Early the next morning we departed Hawaii and set course for Japan and then Subic Bay. Upon arrival in Subic, work got underway immediately to offload the new aircraft and other cargo. It took less than a day to load the shot -up aircraft onto Yorktown’s flight deck and hanger deck. Like Hawaii, the crew got little liberty time. Port and starboard liberty was called with the first group given liberty from about 1600-2200 and the next day the second group was given liberty from 0800 – 1400. On the second day the second group got short-changedbecause the ship’s departure time was moved up by a couple of hours. The second day liberty expired 2 hours early at 1200. Shore patrol was sent out to Alongapo to get Yorktown’s crew back to the ship by noon. What a fiasco this turned out to be! I witnessed 2 Yorktown sailors who didn’t get the word about liberty being called short run up to the pier after the Yorktown had been pushed off. Not to be left behind, these 2 sailors ran over to the recreation area where there were some small sailboats. They got into one of them and rowed out to the Yorktown (now being pushed out to sea by tugs), came along side and climbed up a Jacobs ladder to come aboard. We left about 20 sailors standing on the pier in Subic that day. They flew to Japan and caught up with the ship later for return to the U.S. During our transit time back to the CONUS, all of us had time to walk the flight deck and hanger bay to inspect shot up aircraft. It was my first real exposure to what war is about and what destruction is about. Many of these aircraft had what appeared to be small bullet entry holes on the underside of their wings, but the top wing skin was often totally exploded and ripped away. Damage to shot-up helicopters was dramatic. I wondered at the time how they could salvage much of anything from these aircraft. Upon return to San Diego, we dropped off our cargo at North Island and within a day were back at Pier E in Long Beach. I believe we had been gone less than a month. The Magic Carpet cruise of 1965 was in the memory books. Or, as it turned out …not so much. -Dean