The Origin of that “S. O. S.”

Dr. William G. Kennon, Jr.

On Christmas day, 1943, we were out fishing in a little inboard-motor Chriscraft, about 16 feet long. We shipped a little water, swamped our engine and couldn't get it started again. We started drifting up towards North Seymour Island. We had no oars, only a small paddle and we couldn't direct the boat very well. It drifted to the island and got battered up pretty badly, but we climbed up onto the rocks and made our way to the top of the island. The surface is pretty flat and was used by the bombardment squadron as a practice bombing range. The planes often carried a few small 150-pound demolition bombs, and as they returned from anti-submarine patrols would sometimes drop them on the island to test their bomb sights. On that particular morning, the squadron commanding officer was part of our fishing party of about five men. When we reached the top of the island, he said “One of my flights is due in here in about 30 minutes. I think they're going to drop some bombs right here.”

Well, there weren't a lot of places to hide, but we found two or three old sandbags that had been left up there. We cut holes in the bags and wrote out a big “S. O. S.” right across the area where they usually drop their bombs. Next, we set fire to the sacks and added some dead wood to the blaze. We made quite a little fire with some smoke, and pretty soon one of the infantry outposts on Baltra saw it and reported it. Somebody flew over in a small liason plane; he was a friend of ours and recognized us. He flew very low, cut his engine and leaned out and laughed. Needless to say, we weren't in a laughing mood, and we made it known to him that we wanted off. They finally sent somebody out and got us off in time to get back to Baltra for a big Christmas dinner at the officer's mess.

Note: Dr. Kennon was stationed at the Base Hospital on Isla Baltra. The above is an excerpt from his taped recollections, recorded for Alan Moore in 1981. The enlarged area is rotated 90°.―JW.