Dr. Robert Duncan-Enzmann

We are assigned to a modern American cruiser just off the ways (‘way’ is the slot a new ship slides down from the shipyard into the world ocean). It is sleek, well-manned, and excellently armed, a greyhound of the sea. We feel sort of invincible, sailing toward where we will be stationed in the south west Pacific.


This is war. I have been sleeping far aft, port side. The first torpedo wakes me with a thump and heavy bump. It hit the starboard side bow. I’m on my feet when the second torpedo takes us starboard side, betwixt bow and mid-ship. A terrible jerk takes me off my feet. Then our ship shudders, shudders, and lists starboard.

How strange the things are that one does in an ultimate emergency. We are going down, and it will be fast. I have to get out and quickly, but I take a moment, much less than a minute, to drink lots of water. Then I go up on deck and find, with sheer luck, a really modern life jacket and strap it on.

God! A third torpedo takes us amid-ship, just moments after one of our two destroyed escorts it hit explodes. The mid-ship torpedo must have hit a magazine. Lady luck again, my knees are bent just right so that I am tossed up and over the side.

I am well abow (in front of) my ship which is now listing some 200 and plunging sternward. Many seamen, though not a majority in life jackets, swim desperately. The ones in life jackets do most of the screaming, as most of the ones near the ship are sucked down and die

Even I, well abow, am sucked toward the death peal, but the plunge is over just before I arrive, and is now just a shallow whirlpool.

The ship is gone. The sharks arrive. Regular waves of the southern trade winds are running, I recon, about three feet high. Sharks some way off get a couple of sailors. I wish the submarine that got us would take some prisoners, it doesn’t surface at all. A guy swims past me, says lots of us are getting together to make noise and keep the sharks away. You should come to safety. I don’t believe him. I’m right.

I float like a buoy. Ha, ha! Too much ass. Such awful screams and curses, and prayers to be saved. I even see the bloody mess as the sharks feast. The guys, some of ‘em, fight with knives and poles, but it’s useless. I hang in the water, glad I am upwind and updrift from them. A shark comes near me, so I release packets of dye. The shark dislikes the smell and veers off to the big feast.

Wave trains go one way, wind currents another way, a current just below the surface goes in a third direction. Before the sharks go away, some of them rip each other apart. I’m guessing it’s the sharks the seamen stabbed and cut with their knives. Pieces of life jackets float by. I get many packets of dye and keep them but find only one little bottle of water.

If I make it, I’m going to invent a really good life jacket. It will have a helmet you can pull up over your head, so as not to fall asleep and have your face fall forward, and after a few times, drown.

Night falls, then after a long starry night, daybreak and dawn. I shit diarrhea that costs water. Slowly I wash myself clean so as not to get sores. And then there’s another sailor in a really good jacket like mine. He says only a few things. “Hi, lucky day, big eel I’ll catch and knife him. Damn! It bit me. I tingle all over, dizzy….”

I have read about them but have never seen one before. They are sea snakes, poisonous as cobras – cobras that went to live in the warm tropical oceans. The guy trembles, shivers, can’t talk and as I hold on to him, is soon dead. The snake he thought was an eel has gone away. I search his pockets and jacket, finding a little bottle of water where they are often put in life jacket pockets, and a wallet. It is all right to do this, and I do it right. I take his life jacket but leave his crucifix. God will like my saying a prayer for him best as I can by adding to Now, I lay me down to sleep. God will know I did my best.

I used to think that people drifting to the bottom of the sea were buried in mud and became fossils. That is nice to think, but it doesn’t happen. Things down there the size of germs eat everything, even bones. But his clothes and crucifix will remain.

After I get his dye packets and the water, with a huge effort I tie the extra life jacket behind my head. It is a big help holding my head up. My fingers are wrinkled. My sisters, doing laundry, used to call that ‘witch’s fingers’, saying that the soap drew the water out. It’s not that way. The water is going into my skin, so that is good. If I drink salt water I will soon die.

Then on the evening of the second day, about sunset time, a great tree trunk with branches and knobs sticking out drifts near me. It’s really white, no bark, and covered with small barnacles, so its drifted a long time. I really test it, work hard testing it to see if it will roll. It won’t roll and pull me under. My good luck: one side, and its few branches, insist on being on the side that is up and out of the water.

I thank God. I can rest my head on a V in the white branches and really sleep. Then rested I wiggle up amidst the branches to where I can be mostly out of the water, but always cool. I will die if I sweat. I caught a minnow then ate it with a bit of candy and drank some of the precious water. Thank goodness I have a hat. For a time, I am feeling better.

It’s delicious, lucid dreaming. I do lots of that. I see many beautiful things. I do lots of thinking about thinking. I worked it all out. No one has done that before, but I have worked it out, and often stop to have a lucid dream, then work out more and more about thinking about thinking. There is music thinking – remembering music. Things said come back over and over between lucid dreams, like ‘hurry up’ or ‘we will be late.’ Worries come, but I keep from doing that. Dressing up in military dress jumper, eating and drinking. Lots of that. Lots more, but I am losing – have lost track – of time, so I drink the last of the water, have the last wax paper-wrapped piece of candy.

I have drifted onto a beach; some sailors say that I was caught in the branches still alive. I hear ‘give him some water.’ I sip, again and again from water the sailors give me. That’s good, but I want to go back to dreaming, so I do. A truck comes and soon I’m in a hospital, so I fall out of the beautiful dream into real sleep. I woke up to hear a Navy Nurse saying to me, ‘Hi. Glad you have come back.’ In a few days I am talking again, but only remember a little about the different ways of thinking I worked out so well when drifting. And the lucid dreaming that was so comfortingly beautiful as I drifted – I can’t’ do any more. I guess really sleeping stops it.

Then I have one more thought. Being picked up by the Japanese would have been death, either real soon, dumped off the sub with a weight tied to my feet, or months later as a slave worker.