This day in 1942 was a happy day for Joe Sarnoski, “Rocky” Stone, and the rest of the 13th Reconnaissance Squadron (soon to be renamed the 403rd Bombardment Squadron). That day they lined the rail of the transport ship U.S.S. Argentina to gaze on the hazy outline of the Australian coast.
They had been at sea for thirty-two days, having left Brooklyn, New York, on January 23, with eight other transports, traveling under the protection of three cruisers and eight destroyers of the U.S. Navy. Over that month they had endured the highs and lows of five thousand men packed together on a single ship, most at sea for the first time, sailing to an unknown future as saviors of a distant land most knew only by name and caricature.
They had watched wistfully as they passed within sight of the Florida Keys. They had been raised by the hearty cheers of American soldiers stationed at Panama as they sailed through its famous locks, anticipating the shore leave rumor said awaited them at Balboa on the other side—only to have their hopes dashed with a single, stifling overnight stay on board ship, interrupted by Coast Guard artillery practice. They had passed the time being interviewed, in the case of the new men, by their commanding officer, and in radar, mechanical, and photography classes learning radar, mechanical. They had watched nervously as one of their destroyer escorts had dropped depth charges on an unknown enemy. They had celebrated raucously in the time-honored seafaring traditions of crossing the Equator. And just the day before they had held their stomachs—or not—while the Argentina tossed in rough southern Pacific seas.
The next day they would dock at Melbourne, about as near the bottom of the world as civilization had got, to learn how and when they would begin their journey back north, this time to face a much more perilous headwind than they had on board the Argentina—the divine wind of the Japanese Empire, racing south to do to the 403rd’s new home what it had done to China, Burma, and the Philippines.