Aboard a Liberty Ship, October 1944

A Month Aboard a Liberty Ship

I never determined which Liberty ship Dan and Harry were on. This is Liberty ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien, San Francisco (which we toured years ago). Photo by Mike Hofmann, 2008

While Chief Electricians Mate Donald Wilson, aboard the brand new aircraft carrier USS Hancock, was headed for the island of Ulithi in the Pacific, in October 1944, hundreds of troops, fourteen pilots, and five new P-38s sailed for Europe aboard a crowded Liberty Ship. Lieutenants Dan Wilson and Harry Wold were two of the pilots. 

In a March 1989 letter to me, Harry Wold wrote that they’d left Hamilton Field in San Francisco on a slow troop train, taking seven days to cross the country to Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. 

Danny started a letter home on October 21, noting that it was also the date of his brother Dale’s first mission a year earlier. Dale Wilson had been missing in action since the end of November. 

This letter was censored, and he couldn’t mail it until they arrived “at their destination.” 

His bunk on the ship was in a small compartment with several other men, so he spent most of the time on the deck with his shirt off, watching the waves break across the bow, enjoying fresh air, listening to music from a phonograph. “All in all,” he wrote, “the time goes by pretty fast,” watching other ships, sharks, flying fish, and seaweed. “In the evening the main attraction is to line up by the side and watch them throw over the garbage.” As the evening grew dark, phosphorus particles glowed in the water, especially in the wake of the darkened ship.     

Lt. Harrison E. Wold, Dan Wilson’s best friend. 15th Air Force, 14th Fighter Group, 37th Fighter Squadron (P-38s), Foggia, Italy

His buddy, Harry Wold, wrote to his fiancée, “Laid around in the sun all day, talking with Danny Wilson, a kid from Iowa. Met him at Santa Rosa. He’s really a good kid, doesn’t smoke, drink, or run around with wild women. He’s a lot like Youtz, which makes him one of the two nicest fellows I’ve known.” 

Six days later, Danny wrote home that had a good tan and had seen seagulls and other “odd-looking birds,” so he knew they were nearing land. “This ship goes at a good speed, possibly a dogtrot.” Hinting that they were nearing Gibraltar, he added, “We’ve put our watches ahead four hours from E.S.T. Wonder if they’ll have the Prudential Life Insurance sign lit up, if we go through at night?” 

“I didn’t see the sign lit up,” he noted the last day of October, “when we went by in the moonlight.” Halloween reminded him of going out on the “80,” an 80-acre field near Minburn, to gather a few dozen little pumpkins in the evening, and his mother making them into pies the next day. “Then I’d probably be just one of the gang who would eat more than a sensible amount.”

“Hope you have knocked off a while to go squirrel hunting,” he told his dad. “I’m thinking of you always, Mom and Dad, and very much more than I’ve ever expressed it personally.”


After twenty-eight days on the ship, Dan “turned in his sea legs” and was at a Replacement Depot, in Naples, living in a tent with Lt. Wold and three other pilots. He mailed his Liberty Ship letter, with its green 8-cent airmail stamp, to Minburn. It was forwarded to Perry, where his folks had moved recently. Leora began to jot on the backs of envelopes the dates they arrived. “Arr. Nov. 15,” she wrote on this one. 

Danny did some sight-seeing in Naples and bought a small silver bell inscribed “Capri.”

And he composed several letters, all censored, one to Doris and Warren. “I’m now somewhere in Italy,” he said. “I’m writing this on a big tin can in a pup tent.” 

He said that people in the States didn’t realize how lucky they were, that the towns there were filthy, with some parts had been bombed. People tried to exist in filthy, meager conditions, with ragged clothes and no shoes. Some had a starved ox or horse and a cart and would sell anything, even themselves, to survive. 

Danny had more training, about the “same kind of deal as Dale went through overseas before flying the first combat mission.” It certainly was keen to fly the P-38 again, he said. Their steel Marston Mat runways were slick in wet weather, and takeoffs and landings were made in a big spray of muddy water.

He owned an Italian-American dictionary, but the pilots had quite a time talking to the “Eyeties,” as he called them. A lot of locals knew more American than they did Italian.

“No, Mom, I didn’t go near where Don was.” Because his folks knew he’d started out in California and would take it for granted he’d end up in the Pacific, Dan tried to hint that he’d gone the opposite way, but his parents hadn’t caught on yet. 

He sure hoped they would get word about Dale soon, and that the Japanese would go through with their promise to send names of their prisoners, especially after reports of the uncivilized things they’d done to their POWs. 

Recently I got a note from a grandson of Harry Wold! He’s very interested in the stories about his grandfather and Danny Wilson.

Read more about Harry in of Chapter 32 of What Leora Never Knew: A Granddaughter’s Quest for Answers


  1. It is so wonderful when you reach out and meet up with other information, isn’t it? I’m so glad Mr. Wold’s grandson contacted you.

  2. You know what I love about you, Joy? You bring history to life. Thank you. Remembering is everything and I think it’s the most beautiful way to honor those who served. xo! 💕

    • Can you imagine it crowded with soldiers (plus a few pilots), along with six P-38s? I think their wings were folded, but still, for a fighter plane, they’re “no small fly,” according to Dan Wilson. That what I tried to do when we visited. I enjoyed it that they let us have the run of the ship!

      • Sometimes they’d party disassemble the planes and put them in crates. Don’t know if they did that on the P-38, but it would take a lot of room on the ship. Sometimes I read how much stuff and people they put on board on of those ships, hard to imagine, but they did it.

  3. I loved this excerpt, Joy. Danny’s description of Naples is not surprising to me. My mother grew up in Naples during that time, and for a while her seven siblings and her mother lived in a cave after her father (a pilot) died-presumably of cancer. I typically give books to family members during the holiday season, and then we share them. My husband will be getting these (chuckle, chuckle).

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