USS Surprise only ship in Navy to run out of fuel on equator during World War II – Coxswain Horatio Waite of Arcadia, Fla. was aboard

Horatio Simmons Waite was a Coxswain 2C on the USS Surprise PG-63, a patrol gunboat escorting cargo ships from Trinidad to Recife, Brazil, in January 1943.

“Among the ships being escorted was a fuel tanker which refueled the escort ships on certain days. The evening before our ship was to be refueled, the tanker was sunk by a German submarine,” he wrote.

“Our ship was low on fuel and we received orders to proceed to port in Belem, Brazil. En route we ran out of fuel at the mouth of the Amazon River, on the Equator at Latitude 0000, Longitude 48.41 West. It was late in the afternoon when we dropped anchor and anxiously awaited a tug from Belem to reach us. We knew there were German subs in the area,” Waite said.

“The next day, Jan. 16, 1943, it was determined that a few of the officers and some of the crew had never before crossed the Equator. According to old seafarer’s tradition they were lowly Polliwogs. The skipper of the ship decided since we were in the proper position that King Neptune and his staff would conduct the hazing to make as Honorable Shellbacks.

“The ceremony involved numerous pranks and dunkings by the helpers. We had a great time and pictures were taken to record the ceremony. Each seaman received a certificate indicating the date and the location of the ceremony. It was an honor to participate and helped to relieve the monotony of shipboard activities,” he wrote.

“The next day a tugboat came out and towed our ship into Belem. As we came alongside the docks we saw German swastikas marked all along the seawall. It appeared the Germans were going in there for fuel and supplies, too.

“It must be noted that the Naval ship, USS Surprise PG-63, was the first and the only U.S. Navy ship to run out of fuel on the Equator during World War II,” Waite explained.

He also survived the sinking of the last ship he served aboard, the USS Sacandaga, AOG-40. She sunk off Okinawa in October 1945 during a typhoon. Waite received a commendation for saving 16 men who were in the water during the storm.

His commendations include: A rescue commendation letter, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with Star, American Area medal, World War II Victory Medal and Navy Good Conduct Medal.

“I was proud to have served my country,” he added.

Waite, who is 87, and his wife, Shirley, live in Arcadia.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, June 27, 2002 and is republished with permission.

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Horatio Simmons Waite, 87, Arcadia, died Sept. 17, 2002. He was born June 8, 1915, in Tiverton, R.I., and came to Arcadia 24 years ago from Miami.

He was a Navy veteran who served during World War II. He was a retired vehicle inspector for the city of Miami. He was a life member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Peace River Post 2824, both in Arcadia. He received the Atlantic/Pacific Commendation medal for saving 16 of his shipmates when the ship sank. He was honorably discharged as chief boatswain’s mate. He was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Arcadia.

Survivors include his wife, Shirley; daughters Cheryl J. Kapit of Las Vegas and Gayle I. of Atlanta; sons Bruce of Hollywood, Charles W. of Key West, and David W. of Sarasota; and seven grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight at Ponger-Kays- Grady Funeral Home in Arcadia. A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home.

Published in Herald Tribune on Sept. 20, 2002 – See more at:

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