“The Army began moving these large canisters — resembling acetylene tanks — from the ship to the beach, and buried them,” Ramey said. “In the mountains north of us, the German Army was fighting desperately and fiercely to hold the pass through the mountains. It was suspected the U.S. might use poison gas (against them) rather than lose the mountain pass highway to Germany.”
The next morning, the captain of the ship gave Ramey a sealed packet for delivery to a private residence in Naples. He boarded a train and made his way to the city.
“After hours of searching for the residence, I flagged a British military policeman on a motorcycle. I climbed on and he delivered me to the location. I knocked on the door but got no response. It’s now too late to catch the train back to the ship. I met two young soldiers from the mountain fighting and we shared a large bottle of Italian wine.”
The next morning, feeling none too chipper, he delivered the documents to a man at the house, and was surprised and puzzled that the delivery had not been made to the military post established in Naples.
Mulling over these questions in his mind, he caught the train back to his ship. He climbed down from the train to discover the ship had left without him.
“It departed for Naples,” said the commander of the port authority.
Back on the train he went, bound for Naples.
“Far in the distance I could see the mooring lines being removed. Tugs were already alongside the ship. I ran to the dock and leaped to the gangplank,” Ramey said.
After the captain finished dressing him down, he found out the packet he had delivered concerned the mystery cargo that was taken off the ship and buried.
The German Army was defeated at the mountain pass.
“I hope my wine-sipping soldiers made it out alive,” Ramey said. “To this day, the contents of that cargo remains a mystery to me.”
Poison gas wasn’t used in World War II, except for one incident where Japan used it against China in 1941. The U.S. reportedly had about 135,000 tons of chemical warfare agents during the WW II, while Germany had 70,000 tons. Hitler wisely decided against using his poison gas for fear of retaliation from the Allies.
The use of poison gas in World War I was a major military innovation. The gases ranged from disabling chemicals, such as tear gas and the severe mustard gas, to lethal agents like phosgene and chlorine.
Ramey enlisted in the Navy in 1943 after graduating from Portsmouth East High School. After completing boot camp, he was determined to be qualified for a special post. He was sent to a military training base in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he was trained to be the ship’s doctor and aide to the captain.
“The complexity of convoy crossings with new young seamen, plus the extended time at sea, brought a need for a medical attendant and captain’s aide. That was most of my duty, and it was good duty. We traveled the world,” Ramey said.
Ramey’s time on board cargo ships was dangerous duty, too. Cargo ships leaving the United States for England were sometimes sunk by German submarines before they got there.
“They were running out of people to man the ships. I found out that if I could get on a ship that was leaving I would get a bonus that saw me making $100 a month, as opposed to the regular seaman’s pay of $50 a month,” Ramey said.
Eventually, at war’s end, his ship made it to Japan, where he walked through what once was Hiroshima, just 10 days after the atomic bomb leveled it.
That account of Ramey’s World War II experiences was told in an April 2008 story by Daily Times reporter Ryan Scott Ottney. This current story contains some of Ramey’s recollections that came after Ottney’s interview of him for the first story.
He recalled a time when his medical training probably saved a sailor’s life.
They were midway across the Atlantic, bound for the Mediterranean, when a seaman came to him privately and asked him to take a look at another seaman who was sick.
“I found him in his bunk in a comatose state. His vital signs all indicated he was critical,” Ramey said. “I turned to the frightened seamen gathered in the compartment and asked them when his condition developed. No one spoke.”
Finally, though, one seaman spoke out and said he would tell Ramey what happened, but only if he agreed not to tell the captain.
“I agreed. It turned out the ship’s cooks had fermented an alcohol concoction using raisins and prunes, etc. The young sailor drank it! I asked the boys to carry him up on deck, holding him to force him to walk,” Ramey said. “I ran to the medicine chest for a strong emetic and a heart stimulant, epinephrin. I forced the emetic down him and administered the heart stimulant into his body. He vomited the poison from his body and in a few minutes his heart rate was again normal.”
The next morning the young seaman was back on his duty of serving meals to the officers in the wardroom.
“Officers onboard ship are served according to their rank,” Ramey said. “The captain’s table was always served first. That morning, though, the young sailor served me my breakfast before serving the captain his! Later, he pleaded with me to visit his family in Brooklyn.”
The ship sailed on and entered the Straits of Gibraltar, where a school of dolphins greeted them and escorted the ship along for several miles. As they entered the North African harbor of Oran, Ramey’s favorite seaman, the boatswain, was repairing a boom cable atop the aft mast when he slipped and fell to the steel deck.
“I rushed to him and realized his injury would require surgery. I immediately contacted the Army’s medical division. They arrived quickly and transported him to their medical center. I didn’t find out what happened because we sailed the next day for Naples, where the burying of the mysterious cargo would take place,” Ramey said.
It was late summer, 1945, when Ramey said his ship left Saipan loaded with tanks and Army troops to take part in the invasion of Japan. On the way, he said, they got the news that the Enola Gay B-29 Super Fortress had dropped “Little Boy,” the code name for the atomic bomb, on Hiroshima, leveling the city and killing approximately 140,000 people.
He said his ship never received orders to turn back, so they continued on toward Hiroshima.
“We were anchored down at the docks of Hiroshima, and just over a mountain and into a valley was the burned city, Ramey said. “Army trucks were unloading and going up that mountain, and I knew if I could get on a truck I could get to Hiroshima.”
He managed to do it several days later. Ramey walked through the ruins, unaware at the time of any possible nuclear fallout that might contaminate him.
“One building remained standing,” he said. “It was a large concrete building that he believes may have been a bank.
Ramey said he found it strange that there were no signs or soldiers warning people to stay back.
“But it wouldn’t have mattered,” he said. “No one else was around. I was the only one there. Right in the heart of Hiroshima. There was nobody.”
And apparently he suffered no ill effects.
He received his honorable discharge from the military in 1946, returned to Portsmouth, married, had three children. He worked in a series of car dealerships and eventually opened his own dealership in Kentucky, from which he retired.
He now spends his time between his homes in Portsmouth and Florida.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.