Houstonian Who Survived 23 Days in Raft Returns to U. S. to Claim Bride
The Story of Ensign Louis John Muery Jr. VB-8 Squadron

It was a big day Tuesday at the home of the L. J. Muery's at 4117 Dallas as the family planned to travel to Norfolk, Va., to attend the wedding of Ensign Louis John Muery Jr., the Navy pilot who was nursed back to health by South Sea Islanders after drifting in a rubber raft for 23 days.

"Louis called me from San Francisco this morning," Mrs. Muery said. He had just landed and is going to Norfolk to marry a girl he met while he was in training there, Miss Mary Lou Ambrose. "We're leaving as soon as we can to meet him there." Ensign Muery was able to survive thirst, hunger, the South Seas sun, fights with sharks and struggles in the water because he was toughened by constant exercise from his boyhood days, his mother says. "He took exercises every morning of his life," she said. "When I was notified he was missing at sea, I never gave him up. I knew somehow he would survive."

Ensign Muery was forced down by engine trouble in the South Seas on May 21. He had been operating from a
U. S. Navy carrier (USS Hornet CV-8). For 23 days he and Radioman Max John Richter of Nebraska paddled, sailed and floated their rubber raft. Then just as they were in a few hundred feet of land their boat capsized. Richter was drowned.

The story is told in Ensign Muery's own words as relayed from Pear Harbor by Second Lieut. John C. Guenther, Army public relations officer.

"We were a long way from the carrier when our engine stopped. I crash-landed the plane and we managed to get out of our harness and on to the wing with our rubber lifeboat. Then the plane sank. "We had two quart canteens of water, a .45 caliber pistol and 21 rounds of ammunition, emergency rations normal for two days, two folding aluminum paddles, an air pump for the raft, patching equipment, a first aid kit, rubber life jackets, three pocket knives, two signal flags, a stainless steel mirror, a whistle, our watches and my parachute. We had no navigation equipment."

"We decided to make for an island we had noticed about 40 or 50 miles from the place the plane went down. We paddled all night and by morning we realized we were getting nowhere. Hopeful of rescue, we decided we'd just sit and wait. "By the morning of the third day we decided rescue was unlikely and that we'd try to make land before it was too late. We rigged a sail from a piece of parachute, using a paddle for a mast and the handle of one of the signal flags for a yard arm. The raft at times made six or eight knots.

The men steered with the remaining paddle in shifts that grew shorter as they grew weaker. They rationed their food for a 40-day period and had a "banquet" every afternoon of a quarter can of concentrated food, four or five malted milk tablets and a square of chocolate. "The fifth day it rained and rain fell thereafter about every other day."

"We tried using the parachute cloth to catch water, but that was a failure, Ens. Muery said. "Finally we hit on using a large absorbent cloth sling from the first aid box. We held this in the rain until it became water soaked, and then we'd wring it out into the box. By doing this, we managed about a cup of water each every other day or so. We'd stopped talking to each other after the third day and communicated almost entirely by signals and grunts. Talking was tiring and dried our mouths."

Sharks swam around the raft, and the fliers fired their pistol at them when they got too close. The aluminum paddle seemed to attract them. The boat overturned on the 12th day and the men finally righted it, but not until they lost the pistol, shells, some knives and all the food except three malted milk bottles. "The losses didn't bother us," Ens. Muery said, "We didn't care much by that time. Once I caught a small fish by using a piece of parachute cloth for a net. We ate him raw. He tasted good."

A seagull often roosted on the raft but the men didn't have the heart to eat him because he was the only friendly living thing they had seen. "On the twenty-third day, as we lay in a stupor at the bottom of the boat, I aroused myself long enough to take a look around', Ens. Muery said. 'I thought I saw land. I shook Ric and pointed shoreward. We realized what it meant and hugged each other, and I guess we cried too."

The island was surrounded by a coral reef. The boat overturned in the swells near the reef. The men hung on and righted it. Then they headed in again. "The boat was picked up and hurled into the air," Ens. Muery said. "We wore our inflated lifejackets, but they were not much use in such tremendous surf. Richter and I clung to each other, trying to help the other. I knew he was a very poor swimmer. The current dashed us upon the reef and forced us apart. Finally I was washed into shallow water."

Finding Richter unconscious, Muery got him on the boat and tried to revive him. Then Muery passed out. When he recovered, Richter was dead. Muery reached land and collapsed again. By late afternoon he revived and found Richter's body. He dug a grave with a paddle and buried him, then, when the body was washed up by the shifting tide, buried him again. "I didn't know it, but natives were watching me all the while," he said. "They thought I was a Jap and my shiny paddle a rifle. I was looking out at sea when a voice behind me asked: 'Who are you? Do you speak English'?"

Muery saw a white man with a group of natives. "I tried to shake his hand," he said. "He soon knew I could speak English. The natives, when they knew I was a friend, were delighted, particularly with the handshake. Nothing would do but that I had gravely to shake hands with each of them." They fed him and carried him to the village, where they put him in a cot. They found Richter's body and buried him in a section of their graveyard reserved for the greatest of their people.

"Before long I was picked up by the Navy," Muery said. "Before I left the island, the natives showed me a fine headstone they were carving for Richter."

The author of this article and the date published is unknown.

(Submitted by Carol D. Muery)

 

Louis John Muery, Jr. passed away Nov. 11, 2008.


Page published Feb. 8, 2008