Circumstances sometimes compel officers and enlisted people of the U.S. Navy to perform missions of mercy in the midst of war, with means not designed for that purpose. These actions fulfill mariners’ long-time practice of rescue at sea. One such occasion occurred just before Christmas of 1941 in the Philippines, with World War II less than a fortnight old.
The venerable steamship Corregidor, crowded with about 1,200 people fleeing Manila in advance of the invading Japanese, set out for Mindanao. In the dark, however, she fouled a mine off Corregidor, sinking with heavy loss of life. Motor torpedo boats PT-32, PT-34, and PT-35, from Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three, got underway from their base at Sisiman Cove and proceeded to the scene. The sailors worked to exhaustion hauling wet and oily survivors on board. Eventually, the three boats distributed the rescued between the island of Corregidor and the requisitioned French steamship Si-Kiang; seven of those picked up died of injuries suffered in the tragedy. When those entrusted with the responsibility of tallying the totals reached their final figures, they discovered that the PT-boaters had picked up 282 people, with PT-32, a 77-foot plywood craft with a crew of 11, having picked up 196 herself!