In the hope that someone eventually reads this: I made two trips across the Atlantic on the Geiger. In 1954, I was sent to Germany and as I understand it, two troop transport ships were almost exclusively used for this run….between NY and Bremerhaven. The Geiger and the Brantner.
After so many years I seem to recall that the sister ship of the Geiger was the Brantner. I was scheduled to return on this "sister" ship. However, two weeks before I was supposed to leave, my orders were re-cut and I returned to NY via the Geiger. I have found this to be unusual; making both trips on the same ship.
I have no fond memories of the Geiger or her crew. We were packed into a cargo hold, sleeping on a very cramped bunk (both vertically and length wise), and eating in a mess hall (galley) that surely has to be mentioned in any book written about hell. Ten days of utter boredom and incessant movement and a motion sickness that has never been duplicated since by disease, booze or carnival rides, has created a place in my brain like an inoperable tumor! On the first day out of NY I got my first clue that the US Navy, as a whole, were a sick bunch of people. The first meal they served was greasy pork chops! Hardly food for land lubbers going to sea for the first time. I wasn't able to get within 50 yards of the hole where they were serving this stuff because of the smell.
I had very little contact with the crew other than the Naval officers who came through each morning for inspection. They would take one look at me, shake their heads and move on. I think the primary purpose of the inspection was to check for dead bodies.
The second contact I had was with a rating that, I thought at the time, was feeling sorry for me. His suggestion on this 3rd day at sea was, "Go up on the deck soldier and get some sea air. It'll make you feel much better." I thought, hey, this guy makes a living out here, he should know what he's talking about. I rolled out of the rack and staggered up 15 sets of steps, ladders, or whatever you call them. I finally found a wooden door that led to the outside world.
This outside world consisted of 360 degrees of water. All of it moving! I was immediately confronted with waves that looked like they were about 50ft high and before my senses could adjust to this vision, the next thing I knew I was looking down into a 100ft trough. I immediately slammed the door shut and staggered back down to my bunk. It was now three days without food, water or a trip to the bathroom and this….dirty rotten….person….did this to me. He should have been tried for treason, cruelty to animals, or something.
On the evening of the 4th day I finally made it to the galley for food, after failing to make two attempts that day….breakfast and lunch. When I got to the galley, I have never seen such horror in my life. Men were trying to eat while the ship rocked and rolled and bucked like some kind of animal that was being ridden against it's will. Everyone had their faces only inches from their trays, trying to avoid seeing anything else. In some cases it didn't help. Someone, someplace on the table, would puke into his tray and it would slide down the table and stop under the face of a poor devil that was trying to keep anything he had eaten, down.
I saw one man crush one of the heavy steel strays between his chest and bulkhead when the ship rolled violently. I looked at the poor guys behind the window where all food and empty trays were passed. I totally failed to imagine what kind of hell these men were enduring. I often wondered what sins they committed to have been sentenced to such a punishment.
My first trip to the head during this same evening, made the galley nightmare look like a picnic in the park! My senses reeled, locked up and revolted. Every thought in my brain went screaming off in all directions. If I didn't have to use the head so bad I would have left immediately. Where the water in my bladder came from, I have never figured out because I hadn't had a drink in 3 days, except a little at evening mess.
There were guys laying with their heads and hands in the urinal trough with several inches of water sloshing over them with each roll of the ship. All but one of the crappers had someone on them, not sitting, but with their heads down in them groaning from the dry heaves. The floor had about 3 inches of water on it. Where that came from I have no idea. There were bodies lying in this water, their heads rolling with the ship. When I first saw it I thought for an instant that the ship might be sinking and we would all die and go to heaven and get this nightmare over with. No such luck. For the first time in my life I was beginning to doubt the existence of God. If He was, then he would answer my prayers and kill us all.
On the 4th day I finally made it topside only to be confronted with another scene from hell. The Navy had 6 GI cans tied at various places for the 1000 plus troops to puke in. They also had ropes tied around the perimeter of the ship to keep some of us from jumping overboard.
I saw men, I suppose on the verge of "loosing it," looking off into the distance for some kind of savior or perhaps land, lost in their own thoughts, which was to keep from puking; then finding their bodies tangled up in a 3 or 4 ft length of yellow rope like vomit that the wind picked up from someone not close enough to the puke cans, and whipped it like a boomerang down the deck. Then this poor devil raced off to find his own puke can. I saw this time and again.
Then I noticed those that were addressed as "the cabin class passengers" on the upper decks. They were the military dependents, or what we learned to call DPs for Displaced Persons. The way they hung on the rails watching the antics below reminded me of what the Romans probably looked like when they were viewing the misfortunes of the Christians in the coliseum. Occasionally, a voice would announce over the PA that "dinner was now being served to the cabin class passengers." Eventually, GI boredom or something more sarcastic took over and each time the announcement was made, 500 voices would mock him. Of course the Navy couldn't tolerate such impertinence and put a stop to it…for the most part anyhow.
Eventually, I was assigned as a fire guard on the "cabin class deck." I think I was simply supposed to stand there for four hours and watch the "cabin class passengers" enjoy coffee, cake and cookies.
I did get an assignment one night though. There was a bird colonel tom-catting some of the ladies making the crossing to join their husbands in Germany. This guy could put a male lion to shame. He would visit at least 3 cabins within a 2-hour period, each night. The Navy brass finally learned of his antics and an officer gave me the direct order to "stop this bird colonel and tell him to get the hell back to his cabin and stay there!"
For the first time in my short military hitch, I talked back to an officer. I told him, "Sure, me a PFC is going to tell a bird colonel to "get the hell to his cabin." I also told him, "in his dreams. I had no intention of spending my 26 month experience in Germany in a stinking stockade!" Anyhow, I got the message to the colonel and he took it in stride. I think by this time he was too exhausted to concern himself with some kid PFC.
Well, this has been a long dissertation of MY experience with the Navy transport, Navy personnel and the USNS Geiger. The return trip wasn't any better but I am happy to report, it wasn't any worse."
Allen T. Poland Jr.