The South Pacific Express: A Story of the USS TRYON By Mac Perry

30 Apr

I commented in an earlier post that I spent years searching for information regarding the USS Tryon with limited success. I’d managed to find a few unconnected facts about the ship and her activities during the war, but they painted a very unclear picture of day-to-day life aboard the Tryon. I had many questions about what it was like to be a part of the crew of the Tryon. Where did she sail? What ports did they visit? Did she have a home port in the Pacific? Did they travel from place to place as part of a convoy? If so, what ships convoyed with them (the answer to this question was one of my biggest surprises)? On a day-to-day basis, how much danger was the Tryon in, i.e., how much time was spent in the “war zone”? I knew she made frequent visits to New Zealand – what was up with that?

Lieutenant Ekdal "Big Ek" Buys, during overhaul of the Tryon in Alameda, California, 1945

Then one evening a few months ago I stumbled upon a web site that was a tribute to Ekdal Buys created by his sons. He had been an officer on the Tryon, beginning in February, 1944. I contacted them immediately, and will forever be grateful to Ekdal and Chris, for I may never have learned the answers to my questions without their input. In three key ways the Buys brothers helped to fill in the large gaps in my limited knowledge about the Tryon. First, on the web site, they posted a brief but very informative memoir written by Ekdal about his time aboard the Tryon. Secondly, they shared with me a daily log kept by Ekdal, outlining the daily location of the ship, as well as brief details pertinent to it’s activities. This, along with other papers and memorabilia pertaining to the Tryon, were very informative. Thirdly, they provided me with a copy of a little book that prior to the evening that I discovered Ekdal’s web site I had no idea even existed – “The South Pacific Express: A Story of the USS TRYON” By Mac Perry. This small volume provided tons of details about the Tryon – details that might have otherwise been lost if not for the efforts of Mac Perry to preserve them.

 

Mac was a southerner, from Georgia, and did not serve on the Tryon for the entire war, though he was there in Oakland with other officers assigned to the ship, overseeing her completion and participating in her first shakedown cruise. He felt that the USS Tryon was a special ship, and the story of her days during the War deserved to be retold. So, a few short years after the war he set about seeing to it that this was accomplished. He drew upon not only his own records, but also the notes and the memories of many of his old shipmates, and when completed had done a remarkable job of capturing the essence of life aboard the Tryon.

Here is the forward, in it’s entirety, that explains the background of this wonderful little book, and the team effort that went into it’s

writing:

“Here is the story of the USS Tryon, as best as it can be written four years after the ending of the war. No official documents have been made available and the record as presented here is not intended to be the official history, although every effort possible has been made to make it factual. Memory is a treacherous thing as the years roll by and the best of us soon forget events that seemed very important when they happened.

“The men who served as officers and crew aboard the Tryon during the war years are now scattered to the four corners of the earth and contacting all of them was impossible. Many letters written in search of information were returned because the addresses were wrong, or the forwarding addresses had been lost by the post office. Others were not returned, but no replies were received.

“However, some were most cooperative and without the help, assistance and cooperation of Carl Morck, Al Snell, Roy Cantrell, Bob Curran, Uz Hagman, Ek Buys, Bill Butz, Cosby Swanson, and Padre Nolan this attempt would not have been made. these men came through with every bit of information they had and I hope their papers, notes and otherwise have been safely returned to them.

“The effort to write this record came about in a left-handed sort of way. Having read that ship’s war histories were being written or had been written, I sent letters to Bob Curran and Uzbeg Hagman, hoping that they might have a copy of the Tryon’s history that I might borrow. Both wrote back that in so far as they knew none had ever been written for the Tryon but that they would like to have one and ‘why don’t you write it, we’ll be glad to help.’

“Before I knew what I was in for, I agreed, thinking it would take only a few weeks. Letters were sent out to those former shipmates whose addresses we had. Some were returned, some were answered. Others, whose notes and records were vital could not be found. As time went by, enough information was secured to make a start. After the first draft was completed, additional records and notes were received from Al Snell, Bill Butz, Padre Nolan and Roy Cantrell, making it necessary to completely revise the manuscript.

“After searching all the records available, I am sure that no one could do true justice to the unusual and unique record of the Tryon. The job she did throughout the war in transporting troops, caring for and evacuating patients, dispatching priority cargo, from bombs and ammunition to trucks and troop gear, was not equaled by any ship in the Pacific. My only regret is that a James Michener or a Thomas Heggen couldn’t have written this record.

This story would likely not have been completed, even after all this information had been received, had it not been for the constant prodding of my good, if somewhat persistent wife, Margaret, who kept after me until this somewhat feeble effort was finished. So much of the credit must go to her, although she did delay it, in the end, by presenting me with a second son on April 30, 1949.”

Mac completed his writing in 1951, and self-published his work, naming it “The South Pacific Express” after a nick-name the ship picked up during the war as a result of her frequent runs to New Zealand. I have no idea how many copies of the book were published – I’ve watched for the past six months or so and have not seen any come on the market. I feel very fortunate to have had an opportunity to obtain a copy of it.

It is from this charming and nearly forgotten book that I will draw most of the topics and much of the information of future posts.

Incidentally, Mac Perry returned to Georgia after the war, where he pursued a career as a journalist. He served as president of the Georgia Press Association in 1958-59, the first journalist from Atlanta to do so. He also served on the board of directors of the GPA. Mac passed away on January 1, 1993, and was buried in Oglethorpe, GA, the town of his birth.

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7 Responses to “The South Pacific Express: A Story of the USS TRYON By Mac Perry”

  1. Frank Carter July 3, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    I am enjoying reading your blog about the USS Tryon. My father was a marine, VMF-122, Marine Air Group 11, ground echelon, and shipped out on the Tryon in 1944 to go to Palau for the battle of Peleliu. I have been looking for Mac Perry’s book to no avail. If there are any details about that voyage to Peleliu (arriving September 15 1944), that you could write about I would be grateful. I am really curious about what it was like on those voyages, and how the marines and the sailors got along, what they did on the long voyage, etc.

    • rememberthetitans July 4, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

      Hi Frank – thanks so much for your comments and your kind words. I’m always very happy to connect with someone that is interested in Tryon. The Battle of Peleliu is one of the few things about his war experiences that I remember my dad ever talking about (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere). It must have left an indelible impression on him. The invasion of Peleliu was the first amphibious assault that Tryon participated in, and she received one of her six battle stars for that participation.

      “The South Pacific Express” is indeed a difficult book to find. I’ve been searching for a copy for two years without success – the one I have is a photocopy. I hope to someday find and own my own original copy. Mac Perry did have some interesting comments about Tryon’s participation in the Battle of Peleliu, although by the time of the battle he had been transferred from the ship, and relied for his writing on the information provided to him by his old shipmates that were still on board at that time. On August 28 Tryon arrived at Guadalcanal and took on supplies and the Marines of the First Marine Division. After drills and invasion practice with other ships, Tryon headed for Peleliu with the task force, arriving there on September 15, 1944, two hours before the invasion was to begin. After the Marines disembarked, headed for the beaches of Peleliu, Tryon withdrew a safe distance off shore and awaited the wounded.

      And come they did – in large numbers. Tryon was facilitated, under emergency capacity, to handle 525 patients. But without a nearby hospital facility to transfer the wounded to, day after day Tryon continued to receive casualties. When orders finally came on the fifth day of battle to depart, Tryon had received 913 patients. As a tribute to the tireless and compassionate work of her doctors and corpsmen, and in spite of totally inadequate facilities and unbearably stifling heat (a shortcoming of Tryon that was identified soon after arriving in the tropics was the inadequacy of her ventilation system to her hospital bays and elsewhere. Ironically, upon returning to San Francisco for overhaul in early 1945, a complete air conditioning system was installed – but upon return to the Pacific islands Tryon would never again be used again for evacuation of the wounded), only 21 of the casualties taken aboard died of their wounds. Eighty three were returned to duty on Peleliu. The remaining 809 were taken to Manus island, in northern Papua New Guinea.

      Perry heaped high praise on his old shipmates in the performance of duty under extremely trying conditions during the Battle of Peleliu: “The invasion of Peleliu and the evacuation of the wounded (913 patients) there was perhaps the climax of the Tryon’s great, unpublicized, war record, a record of remarkable all-round service, unequalled in the history of the U. S. Navy’s auxiliary fleet.” It was on the journey to Manus that Captain Byrnoldt received orders back to the United States; Tryon would lose the captain that had seen to her construction and had guided her safely through two years of bitter war, all the while maintaining a crew with high morale. Tryon’s stellar performance at Peleliu can no doubt be attributed in large part to the quality of her leadership at the top. Though Captain Byrholdt had undoubtedly earned a transfer back to the States, Tryon would never again operate with the same fluidity that she had during her first twenty-four months of service.

      In the end, was the Battle of Peleliu necessary? Some historians consider Peleliu, the battle that the National Museum of the Marine Corps called “the bitterest battle of the war for the Marines,” controversial, due to it’s limited strategic value and the high number of American casualties – 1,800 dead and 8,000 wounded. The air field on the island was of little value to future operations, and Peleliu was not useful as a staging location.

      So, for numerous reasons, the Battle of Peleliu holds great importance in the story of Tryon. Though I’ve given a broad outline here, there is much more of that story to be told. I’d be happy to make that my next post.

      • Fletcher Carver July 4, 2014 at 8:53 am #

        Hi, I have recently purchase some of the contents of the Estate of Mac Perry at a auction in Atlanta, Ga. and there were six copies of the book USS TRYON “The South Pacific Express” I have listed a copy on Ebay if you are still looking for it.

  2. Andrew P. Perry August 1, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    August 1, 2014–I learned of your blog very recently from my daughter, Margaret (Maggie) Perry. She found your site as she searched for more information about the Tryon after she read my copy of The South Pacific Express: The Story of the USS Tryon. Her grandfather, my father, is Mac Perry. He loved the Tryon, and I grew up hearing wonderful stories about the good times on the Tryon and the wonderful times off the ship in Acukland. Thank you for your interest in the Tryon and for spreading the word about her and her crew. I will return to your blog again and again. I am Andrew Perry. I am happy for you that you found a copy of my father’s thin and lovely book.

    • rememberthetitans August 1, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

      Hi Andrew! I’m SO pleased and honored to make a connection with a family member of Mac Perry! I have enjoyed Mac’s book immensely – as I said elsewhere in the blog, without it I would know very little about the wanderings of this great ship around the Pacific. How wonderful it is that Mac took the effort to compile the story of Tryon. Because Mac through his book provided me with the information that I had searched for for so long, and did so in such a delightful way, he really is the face of the ship to me. I have a tremendous appreciation for what he did.

      I’d like to ask you if you might have photos from aboard the ship, and especially of Mac and other officers, that you might share with me to put on the blog. I’d really appreciate it if you do.

      As you probably noticed, I haven’t posted anything new for quite some time – but I have been making plans to add something soon. My next post probably won’t apply to Tryon directly, but will speak to the conditions under which she plied the south Pacific. I still have LOTS to say about the South Pacific Express, though.

      Thanks again for your comments! It’s truly a delight to hear from you!

  3. Judith Nychay February 5, 2017 at 11:25 pm #

    My father was a seaman on the USS Rickey, the sister ship. I lost him last year at the age of 97. I so appreciate learning anything I can. He never spoke about his experiences during the war.

    • rememberthetitans February 6, 2017 at 10:52 am #

      Hi Judith! Thanks so much for your comments. As I’ve said before, my dad talked relatively little about his experiences during the war as well, although my mom told me that in general he spoke positively to her about his experiences. I believe you meant that your dad was aboard USS Rixey, the sister ship of Tryon. Is that correct? If so, then you have probably already found this wonderful tribute to Rixey, but if not I think you will enjoy it:

      https://ussrixey.wordpress.com/

      Thanks again for your comments, and please let me know if I can help you in any way in your search!

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