Cecil Taylor – He Was My Guide and Savior
By Raymond Cecil Taylor
853rd Engineer BN. Avn. Corps of Engineers
At 4:00 p.m., November 26, 1943, I had just completed a day in the bakery, keeping fire in the oven. Shortly after I had gone below deck to my dining table, an alarm sounded alerting us that there were enemy aircraft above. All soldiers were ordered below. Our quarters were just aft of the Engine Room on the starboard side of the ship.
The next thing I can remember is that everything was dark. Off to the port side of the ship I could see some light and the dining table had fallen on my leg. I pulled myself from under the table and walked in the direction of the light. There was a large opening in the side of the ship where just a few minutes before had been a solid wall. The dining area that had been filled with soldiers was now only dead bodies and debris. I felt as though God was leading me to the opening in the side of the ship. The hole was large enough to drive several trucks through at the same time. I paused just long enough to inflate my life belt. It felt as though someone or something was telling me to jump, so I did. It was ten to fifteen feet to the water. As I came back up to the surface of the water, I looked up to the top of the ship and saw two soldiers pointing to an object beyond me. It was a life raft about 4’ X 6’4″ in size. I made my way to it, got on and looked around. I could see the ship’s propeller. The momentum of the ship was taking it away from me, which was good. The last sight I had of the ship was it in flames. I did not have any idea that it sank. I also had no idea that the sky was full of enemy airplanes.
I was alone on the raft until just before dark. I pulled two soldiers on board with me and we rode that raft for a long, long night. The sea was very rough and it kept knocking us off. We would get back on and huddle together trying to keep warm until we were knocked off again.
After what seemed like an all-night ride, I looked in the distance and saw something that looked like a ship coming at us. I told the other two soldiers, “If you believe in prayer, now is the time for us to do so.” As the ship came closer we could hear the engine running. It was in reverse motion. They fixed their spotlight on us and over the P.A. told us they would pick us up. They passed us up then came back. As they did, they hit our raft and knocked us off. The sailors on topside threw us life rings and pulled us to the cargo net. Half way up the net I was so weak I fell off. I managed to get back on the net and with the help of the sailors I finally made it on board.
Our prayers were answered. The ship was the Pioneer and it had been made in Orange, Texas. I got on my hands and knees and kissed the deck. We must have been some of the last to be picked up by the Pioneer. In all 606 soldiers were picked up.
We were hungry and thirsty. We had not had anything to eat or drink since noon the day before. However, with all the soldiers aboard there wasn’t anything left to eat so we just stood around and tried to keep warm. It was much warmer there than on that raft.
The Pioneer took us to a British Army camp in North Africa. There I had my first taste of hot tea and we were given a complete British uniform, including hobnailed shoes.
The injured and sick were taken to hospitals.