William Guymer was born at Jamestown, North Dakota, in 1925. After graduating from Jamestown High, Bill entered the US Navy in March of 1943 during World War II. After basic training, Guymer became a Gunnery Mate and was assigned to the USS Mazama.
The Mazama was a large Navy ammunition ship that served in the Pacific. Navy ammunition ships were named after volcanoes -- mountains that could explode. Ammunition ships could do the same. The Mazama was named after Mount Mazama, a collapsed volcano in the Cascade Range in Oregon.
Duty on ammunition ships was not very desirable. Because of the ordinance they carried, they were known for spectacular explosions that would also wipe out anything in the vicinity. As a result, unless they were loading munitions on other ships, most vessels steered cleared of them, and they often anchored off by themselves.
The Mazama participated in the battle of the Philippines and Leyte Gulf. While anchored at Ulithi Atoll, Guymer witnessed the first successful attack of a Kaiten, a Japanese manned suicide torpedo, which sank a fleet oiler on November 20th 1944. By December 1st the Mazama headed to Espirito Santo to replenish her munition stores. Fully loaded, she returned to Ulithi on January 5th, 1945.
While at anchor on January 12th, another Kaiten got by the submarine nets and was sighted off the Mazama’s starboard quarter. Minutes later the Mazama was rocked by a terrific blast that blew her bow out of the water. By some miracle, the ammunition in her hold did not detonate.
The Mazama was severely damaged and started taking on water. Pumps were engaged to counteract flooding and munitions were transferred to other ships. Tons of damaged munitions were dumped overboard. On this date in 1945, Guymer, along with his crewmates, were desperately trying to save their ship, caulking and plugging burst hull seams. The Mazama was eventually able to limp back to San Francisco for major repairs. By June, Bill and the Mazama were headed back to the war with 5000 tons of ammunition, remaining in the battle zone ‘til the war ended.
Bill Guymer left the Navy in 1946, came back to North Dakota, got an associate degree in mechanics and business in Wahpeton, married Carol Jett and had 2 children. He passed away in 2014.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Personal interview with Bill Guymer for the Veterans History Project, archived at the Heritage Center.