Chapter Nine

The veteran sailors couldn’t wait to tell him about the relentless looking for the trouble the Little Beavers did in the Solomons. Pulling out of Tulagi or Purvis bay in the afternoon and hustling up the slot under cover of darkness on hunting expeditions looking for Jap ships or bombarding shore installations on occupied islands. Running at flank speeds in total darkness, the 9 ships of Desron-23 with the light cruisers Montpelier (CVL-57), Cleveland (CVL-55), Denver (CVL-58), and Columbia (CVL-56) cruised through the islands up towards New Ireland and New Britain. Their job was to interdict the flow of reinforcements and supplies coming down the slot. Moving at top speed in pitch black conditions in water barely charted it was an exercise in holding your breath. The steamed in a formation led by the Charles Ausburne and three destroyers in the right front, the cruiser division in the center and the Spence leading the Thatcher, Converse and the Foote in the left rear.

After every round trip The Spence needed to be refueled and provisioned. Exhausted sailors went ashore on work parties to load ammunition onto barges, shore loads were transferred to the ship then stored under the watchful eye of Don, Bean and the other storekeepers. After 36, 40 or more hours at General Quarters with perhaps just a catnap if you were lucky, they lived in a state of complete exhaustion. Sleeping on steel decks, fully clothed, waking up to run for cover during the frequent rain squalls time was blurred into an almost dreamlike state. Even moving in the debilitating heat was nearly impossible and sailors working moved as if they were wading through molasses.

The constant maintenance required for the ship to stay in operation never ended either. The men who tended the boilers and engines, the gunners mates, and the deck crew were constantly slapping temporary repairs on just to keep the Spence underway. If the were anchored, repairs had to be done on shipboard. If they were lucky they would go alongside one of the destroyer tenders for more serious repairs.

The tenders were converted merchant ships known as AD’s. None were purpose built but were acquired from the merchant fleet and outfitted as seagoing repair and provisioning ships. The cargo hold shad built in machine shops, blacksmiths forges, electrical shops, you name it they had it. The could fix or repair almost any part of a destroyer. In their cavernous holds they stocked tens of thousands of parts up to and including spare screws (propellers), solid bronze and weighing several tons each. Their holds held all the food a sailor could want. Eggs, bread, canned goods, flour, peanut butter, jelly as well as refrigerators and freezers full of meats and chicken. Even turkeys for thanksgiving and Christmas. They were a paradise for storekeepers who prowled these floating warehouses shopping lists in hand.

While at Purvis bay the Spence somehow wangled an ice cream maker which was promptly put to work on a 24 hour basis. Treats in the South Pacific were so rare that just a small cup of ice cream was delight.

The big AD’s were two thirds longer than the Spence and more than twice as wide in the beam. The ship that serviced the Spence in the Solomons was the USS Markab, (AD-21). Named for the third brightest star in the constellation Pegasus, she was built at Pascagoula, Mississippi in 1940 as an American Republics Line freighter but never saw service as she was commandeered by the Navy in the summer of 1941. Converted to an AD in Charleston Carolina, she was sent to the South Pacific to service the destroyer force.

USS Markab and her babies, Ulithi Atoll 1944. US Navy photo

These places were not your tropical paradise. Cruising around the Marshalls and the Solomons you could only marvel at the lush tropical growth. The sight of flocks of colorful tropical birds flying over and through the triple canopy was a visual delight as was the perfume of tropical flowers that wafted over the waters giving rise to an imaginary paradise of dusky maidens and other earthly delights. This was far from the case.

The islands were ungodly hot, infested with scorpions, snakes and billions of mosquitos and biting flies that made much of land nearly uninhabitable. There were places where the native population didn’t go. When sailors had time on shore they were restricted to particular areas and the rest of the islands were off limits. There was no relief from the enervating heat. Swimming in streams full of leeches or the ocean gave but little relief as the water was nearly as hot as the open air.

USS Abner Read DD-526 tied up at Hollandia, New Guinea. Note the rough condition of a ship engaged in continuous action. Streaked with rust and with her bedding drying on the handrails she is the picture of a hard used ship. The Abner Read was sunk by a Kamikaze on 1 Nov, 1944 with the loss of 22 young men.

Months of constant cruising, unrelenting heat and long hours of work wore the crews down to the point where any kind of action was a relief no matter what the danger. Up the slot they went, cruising through the inky blackness all night, perhaps firing at some remote shore installation and returning in the early morning to their anchorages, frequently fighting off Japanese air attacks all the way home. The “Lucky” Spence emerged practically unscathed due to a great deal of training and the skill of the skipper in handling his ship.

Attacks by air were nearly a daily occurrence on the trip home. The ships turned off their air search radar because the Japanese pilot could use the beam as a guide to the ships location. The destroyers kept their speed down so the ships wake would not leave a long white arrow which pilots could follow. The ships lookouts were the first warning of trouble and it came in a hurry. At deck level a man can see roughly five miles of ocean surface. At that level a fighter plane can cover that distance in less than three minutes and be on top of the ship almost before it can react. Hitting a small object at that speed, coming right at you is extremely difficult. It’s one of the reasons the Fletchers had so much firepower added as the war went on. A high volume of fire was the only defense against air attack. Lookouts who missed a tiny dot on the horizon could find a ship practically unable to defend itself until it was too late. Thats why the guns were manned at all times when at General Quarters.

Bombs dropped did not need to strike the ship to kill. A bomb hit less than a hundred yards away could still spray red-hot shrapnel. Closer, the underwater concussion produced a pressure wave of water that could crush the thin plating of a destroyer. In an action off Rendova a piece of shrapnel hit a boatswain mate in the lower abdomen. The piece of steel, the size of a saucer stuck part way into his intestines and the pharmacists mate, remember, these ships did not carry doctors, was afraid to remove it lest he be eviscerated. The sailor was transported back to the anchorage before he could be evacuated to a hospital ship for treatment. In one action a seaman was caught without cover during a strafing run by a plane and literally blown to pieces. The parts they could find were buried at sea. Don Pohlemus supplied the shroud. Ships did not stop, they couldn’t. A quick ceremony held by the captain with as many crew as had time to attend and a notation in the ships log of the name, rank, time, date, Longitude and Latitude and that was it. Sometimes sailors wrote about the overwhelming finality of the experience, a brief ripple on the surface and then nothing. There was no earthly way in which bodies could be shipped home. You were buried at sea or in small cemeteries located in some of the most remote places on earth.

A Quad forty in action. The concussion from these guns was terrific. The phone talker has his mouth open to keep his eardrums from bursting. It took 10 to 12 men to operate the Bofors and it was the most common anti-aircraft gun of WWII. US Navy photo

In the days before satellites and U-2’s, information in remote corners of the world was very hard to come by. The Navy depended a great deal on an Australian/New Zealand operation dubbed “Operation Ferdinand.” Lieutenant Commander Eric Feld, Royal Australian Navy, based in Townsville Queensland ran the entire operation.  Coastwatchers became particularly important in monitoring Japanese activity in the roughly one thousand islands that make up the Solomon Islands where “The Little Beavers” and the Spence operated.

The Australian military commissioned many personnel who took part in coastwatcher operations behind enemy lines as officers of Australian Navy to protect them in case of capture, although the Japanese Army did not always recognize this status, and executed many such officers. Escaped Allied personnel and even civilians augmented the coastwatchers’ numbers. In one case, three German Lutheran Missionaries assisted the coast-watchers after escaping Japanese captivity, even though Nazi Germany had allied itself with Japan during the war.

Feldt code-named his organisation “Ferdinand”, taking the name from a popular children’s book about a bull, The Story of Ferdinand. He explained this by saying: “Ferdinand … did not fight but sat under a tree and just smelled the flowers.” It was meant as a reminder to coastwatchers that it was not their duty to fight and so draw attention to themselves, but to sit circumspectly and unobtrusively, gathering information. Of course, like their titular prototype, they could fight if they were stung.

Established to monitor the operations on Australia’s far-flung outer territories as well as in the British-controlled Solomons chain (itself seized from the Germans in WWI), the Coastwatcher program proved a godsend to the Allies when these remote atolls and green archipelagos became prime real estate in 1942. In all, some 600 Coastwatchers and their native police and tribal allies provided yeomen work spotting Japanese planes and vessels. Arguably, had it not been for their intelligence gathering ability behind the Japanese lines, the Guadalcanal Campaign would have been a lot harder if not impossible.

As Halsey said later, “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.”

Besides operating the teleradio “tip line” that allowed the Cactus Air Force and Halsey’s South Pacific command to repeatedly jump incoming waves of Japanese aircraft and tin cans of The Tokyo Express coming down The Slot, the Coastwatchers shepherded downed Allied aircrews and shipwreck survivors.

Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands 1942. photographer unknown

Amazingly, some 165 crew of the St. Louis-class light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50) lost at the Battle of Kula Gulf, 6 July 1943, were rescued and cared for by Coastwatchers Henry Josselyn and Robert Firth along with Methodist Missionary Rev. A.W.E. Silvester and the natives of Vella LaVella until they could be picked up by a fast destroyer convoy under the cover of night.

Lt. (JG) John F. Kennedy, and the survivors of PT-109, sliced in half by the Amagiri, a Japanese destroyer, were saved by native Coastwatchers Biaku Gasa, Eroni Kumana and Reginald Evans.

Lest you think all these coast watchers were men, think again. Ruby Olive Jones had married Sydney Skov Boye in 1919. Skov Boye worked for the Lever Brothers plantation on the island of Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. In 1936, Skov became the Island Manager for the Kauri Companies logging operations on Vanikoro, one of the Santa Cruz Islands.The island was remote and mountainous, and completely surrounded by a coral reef. The reef is treacherous, had no good sized openings through which a medium size ship could pass and has claimed many ships; it was therefore avoided.

The island had no roads; logs were dragged down to the harbour by tractors and floated to await collection by a ship. These arrived from Melbourne four times a year, bringing the mail and supplies. The island workforce included about 20 Australians and New Zealanders, including a doctor, radio operator, storemen, stevedores, and woodcutters, and about 80 local labourers.

At the beginning of the war in 1942, Initially, Ruby’s reports were sent to Tulagi, but it was occupied by the Japanese in May 1942, and after that the reports were sent to the New Hebrides and only in Morse Code. Vanikoro became completely isolated. At one point they went without supplies for ten months, subsisting on locally grown and raised fish, chickens, sweet potatoes and bananas. The radio was for military use only, and Ruby received only three personal messages during war, advising her of the deaths of her father, mother, and sister. Her activities became known to the Japanese, who at one point broadcast a message to her in English: “Calling Mrs Boye, Japanese commander say you get out or we get you.”

3rd Officer Ruby Boye at Vanikoro Island, 1943. Imperial War Museum photo

Admiral William Halsey flew in and paid her a visit, arriving on the island in a “Dumbo” Catalina flying boat to personally thank her for her services in 1943. When she became ill with shingles in late 1943, he arranged for a PBY to fly her to Australia for hospital treatment, and for four US Navy sailors to man the radio station until she returned.

After the war she was awarded several serious medals in recognition of her bravery and service to the empire but, interestingly enough, as her rank as a third officer was, unlike that of her male counterparts, considered honorary she never received any pay.

The Coastwatchers and their radios were the reason the “Little Beavers” knew when Japanese planes or ship were coming down the slot. It gave them scant warning but it was enough.

Adrenaline. Adrenaline effects include increasing the heart rate, increasing blood pressure, expanding the air passages of the lungs, enlarging the pupil in the eye, redistributing blood to muscles and altering the body’s metabolism, so as to maximise blood glucose levels primarily for the brain. Combat veterans know this feeling full well. If you weren’t keyed up enough, the pharmacists mates kept bottles of amphetamines available in his medical office and they were free to all. The Navy, Army and Air Corps shipped them to combat zones by the truck load.

Spence, traveling with the “Little Beavers” and task force 39 on the night of November 2nd, 1943 knew, because of coastwatcher’s reports that the enemy was steaming down the slot under cover of darkness looking for a fight. Matching two heavy cruisers and two light cruisers escorted by six modern destroyers against task force 39’s four light cruisers and nine destroyers the Japanese had every reason to think that the heavy fire power of the bigger ships would overpower the smaller ships of the force coming north to meet them. Closing at a combined speed of nearly eighty miles per hour the two forces closed each other in the moonless night. In 1943 the IJN ships radar was inferior to the ships of task force 39 and this gave Admiral Merrill and Arleigh Burke a small advantage if they could “see” the Japanese fleet first.

Donald on the bridge and his storekeeper shipmates scattered at their duty stations must have felt the exhilaration and anticipation of the impending action. Trying to stand still and gasping for breath they waited. At 02:31 the radar operator in the Spences CIC room called out ships approaching at high speed, distance, 28,000 yards (16 miles). With a gunnery range of about 10 miles or 18,000 yards the little Destroyer hurtled through the night making maximum revolutions the crew knew that if the Japanese saw them they would have to wait under enemy fire for the range to close enough to return fire.

A destroyers only real defense was her speed and maneuverability. The steel used for plating was a bare three quarters of an inch thick which made the ship light but provided almost no protection from high velocity armor piercing shells. The front door of a house has twice the thickness.

As the Spence closed the distance between, the Captain turned to the watch and ordered the telegraphs rung up to flank speed. The assistant helmsman pushed the twin handles back to alert the engine room and then shoved them forward all the way forward. Tuning to Polhemus his said tell the chief to “Tie ’em down.”

Down below in the engine rooms the telegraph on the overhead indicated flank speed and the phone talkers order to tie down the “Pop off valves” told the engineers that the captain wanted every ounce of speed the Spence’s boilers could produce. Stripped to their skivvies in the steaming extreme heat the enginemen shut the valves that let steam overpressure escape and allowed the boilers to produce enough high pressure steam to send the gauges far beyond the red lines. On deck, sailors could hear the whine of the blowers that fed oxygen to the burners in the steam boilers twist up from a whine to a roar as the fans gulped all the air they could. Spence began to vibrate in all her parts as the noise rose to a thrumming roar. Most of the crew worked in near darkness under the dim light of red colored battle lanterns and could only use their senses to understand what was happening on deck. The blowers, the grinding of the gears as the 5 inch 38 turrets turned on their gearing, the sound of the water racing down the hull plating were their signals. They could see nothing as they worked, eyes blind as as the little ship headed for the Japanese fleet. Imagination can be a terrible thing for those working below.

As the Spence dug in her stern, vibrating in every weld and making as much speed as she could Donald Pohlemus, Bean, Haefemeyer and every other sailor held their collective breath.


The torpedomen bent over their charges inspecting each detail while the gunners in the five turrets nervously fingered and caressed their firing keys. Poley stood by next to Captain Armstrong, intently watching him for the signal to fire. Carrigan, the Chief Quartermaster ran his hands over the brass wheel in nervous anticipating any order to change course. The entire crew was on their toes, eyes staring into the darkness for the first sign of…




I always thought girls were smarter and braver than I am, I still do.

The Actress

Imagine an office building in old New York City. Outside a grand office with beautifully carved doors, two well dressed young executives in tweedy suits of the type worn by young up and comers are schmoozing about nothing in particular when one says, “Say, I hear the big boss is talking to that girl in his office about the merger.”

His sidekick is quick to answer, “Oh, don’t worry about that, she is just a             girl, she doesn’t know anything.” 

The girl in question comes out of the inner office and approaches the two young men, saying, “What are you two carrying on about?”

The taller of the two sleeks back his pomaded hair, touches his bowtie briefly, and says with a wink to his partner, “Honey, don’t you worry your little head about it, it’s man talk, you couldn’t possibly understand.”

They both laugh. She gives them a look, turns and stalks off with a slight huff. They laugh again.

It’s a movie scene. The early 1930’s. The two actors, long forgotten are completely gone from living memory. The girl? A 25 year old, who when she arrived in Hollywood to screen test at Universal, stepped down from the Super Chief and was surprised to find that no one from the studio was there to meet her. In fact there was someone there. When that man returned to the Universal offices without her, he told Carl Laemmle, the studio head, “I didn’t see anyone who looks remotely like a movie star.” As well he might, she was an unremarkable 5” 2”, 120 lb. blonde with too large blue eyes, she was no ones idea of a star. Six terrible films later, Universal let her go. She was lucky and  signed with Warner brothers. After more than 20 forgettable films, the role of the vBicious and slatternly Mildred Rogers in the RKO Radio production of Human Bondage, (1934), a film adaptation Somerset Maugham’s novel, earned her first major critical acclaim. Many actresses feared playing unsympathetic characters, and several had refused the role, but she viewed it as an opportunity to show the range of her acting skills. Her co-star, Leslie Howard was initially dismissive of her, but as filming progressed, his attitude changed, and he subsequently spoke highly of her abilities. The director saw something special in her. John Cromwell allowed her relative freedom: “I let her have her head. I trusted her instincts.” She insisted that she be portrayed realistically in her death scene, and said: “The last stages of consumption, poverty, and neglect are not pretty, and I intended to be convincing-looking.”

She spent the rest of her career playing unsympathetic sardonic and mostly unlikable roles and is still considered the finest actress of her generation. She was nominated ten times for an Academy Award and won two for Dangerous in 1935 and Jezebel in 1938.

Her name was Ruth Elizabeth Davis, you know her as Bette.

Ruth Elizabeth Davis 1908-1989

The Aviatrix

 Clad in her trademark plum colored flying suit which she had designed herself, she was the darling of the flying world. Growing up in Arroyo Grande California  with her parents, William and Ursula ,who owned a small farm that was a constant financial drain. When opportunity presented itself, William moved the family to Oakland, California. Her parents, William and Ursula owned a small farm that was a constant financial drain and when the first opportunity presented itself, William moved the family to Oakland, California. Living in Oakland she  successfully gave the impression she was from a wealthy family and was private school educated in the United States and France. Beautiful and poised, she easily carried out the charade. Encouraged by her mother to believe that she could succeed in any endeavor, she relied on her talents and wit to accomplish what few women of her time even dared to dream about. She was an anomaly for her time, and she willingly disregarded societal convention. She vowed never to marry and concentrated instead on pursuing a successful career.

 Harriet started work in California as an actress, but soon abandoned the stage for journalism. That life began in 1902, when she began writing for the San Francisco Dramatic Review and then contributing to the Sunday editions of the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Call newspapers. Pursuing a career in a field where there were few women, she stood out for a variety of reasons. While working in California, she was one of the first journalists anywhere to use a typewriter. She could often be seen driving her bright yellow automobile around town, a unique sight since automobiles were still a rarity at the turn of the century. In 1903, she moved to New York where she joined the staff of Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly as a drama critic and editor of the women’s page. Not content with these tasks, she soon began writing feature articles for the magazine. She joined women writers who had published their stories in the weekly including Louisa May Alcott.

She was fearless and accepted any challenge if it made a good story. She took laps in a Vanderbilt Cup race car and hit the amazing speed of 70 MPH, sliding on two wheels and losing her hat. The driver even let her shift the gears.

In 1910, an International Aviation Tournament organized at Belmont Park found her in attendance. It was there that she met Matilde Moisant. Matilde’s brother Albert then owned and operated one of only two aviator’s schools in the US. She and Matilde decided right there that they would learn to fly. The other aviation schoo , the one operated by the Wright Brothers, refused to accept either woman as students, Stating that no woman had the stamina or intelligence to operate an airplane.” On August 1, 1911, she passed the her tests, earning the Federation Aeronautique Internationale’s License #37, and thus became the first American woman and only the second in the world to earn an Aviator’s License. Knowing the power of performance, she created a look for herself which became her trademark – a purple satin flying suit with a hood. With her slim, elegant looks, she instantly caught the public’s attention. She even chronicled her aviation adventures in Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.

As a person always looking for new challenges, she was the first woman to fly the English Channel. In March 1912, she sailed for England to meet Louis Bleriot, a the time the most famous French flyer. She managed to convince Bleriot to lend her a 50-horsepower monoplane for her attempt to fly the channel. While Bleriot agreed to the arrangement, most everyone around her was convinced she would fail. Bleriot believed in her, having been the first to fly the channel himself and certainly knew the risks she was taking.

On April 16 she departed England for France in a plane she had never flown before, with a compass she had just learned to use. Despite poor visibility and fog, she landed 59 minutes later near Hardelot, France. She  was greeted with cheers by the huge crowd and was hoisted on the shoulders of residents. Sadly she would not receive the worldwide acclaim the flight deserved because it was so overshadowed by the sinking of the Titanic just four days earlier.

Returning to America she flew in the annual Boston Aviation Meet near Quincy, Massachusetts. She was paid the hefty sum of $100,000. She was a worldwide celebrity now and the most famous woman pilot. She flew her gleaming new Bleriot Monoplane out over Dorchester Bay with the event’s organizer, William Willard in the backseat. As they were circling back over the bay, the plane suddenly pitched violently forward and down and Willard were thrown out of the plane, it then rolled on its back and, in front of tens of thousands horrified spectators, she plummeted to her death in the shallow waters of Boston harbor. Amazingly, the little Bleriot righted itself and landed safely in a nearby field.

Harriet Quimby, who had written about safety precautions important in flying, was not wearing her safety belt. The “Dresden China Aviatrix” or “China Doll,” as the press dubbed her because of her petite stature and fair skin was 37 just years old.

Harriet Quimby 1875- 1912

The Ugly Duckling

Anna wore frumpy clothes. Her teeth badly needed straightening. People would continue to attack her looks and she was very insecure, she believed what everyone said about her, admitting in letters to her mother that she was an “ugly duckling.” 

When she first met her cousin Franklin, she could not believe that a man was interested in her. Because he was Harvard educated and extremely intelligent, she wanted him to see her world, so instead of going to a fancy social event, she instead took him to the slums of the New York’s Lower East Side, where she did volunteer work, helping young immigrant women.

The young man, who had led a rich, sheltered life, saw things he would never forget — sweat shops where women labored long hours for low wages and squalid tenements where children worked for hours until they dropped with exhaustion. Multiple families lived in one cramped room with no plumbing. Most of the immigrants themselves were beyond help. little or no education, unable to speak the language, doomed to work themselves to death at an early age. It was the children that broke his heart for they both saw that they were the future of the country.

This walking tour profoundly changed the young man, moving him to say, that he “could not believe human beings lived that way.” It was a lesson he never forgot.

The young man’s name was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the young woman, who changed his life forever, who would change the world forever, her name was Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

When the Daughters of the American Revolution boycotted the 1936 concert of African-American singer Marian Anderson, she would resign her membership and helped organize a new concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial that made history.She flew with black (male) pilots and helped the Tuskegee Airmen in their successful effort to become the first black combat piloShe would be nominated three times, during her lifetime, for a Nobel Peace Prize. She became a renowned social and political activist, journalist, educator, and diplomat. Throughout her time as First Lady, and for the remainder of her life, she was a high profile supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, of equal rights for women, and of social reforms to uplift the poor

After her husband’s passing, she remained active in politics. For the rest of her life she advised presidents and statesmen. President Truman would appoint her as a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations, where she would receive a standing ovation when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on December 10, 1948.

She would chair President Kennedy’s ground-breaking committee which helped start second-wave feminism, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. And, she continued supporting women, even personally assisting in the careers of many women, providing them with guidance, giving them hope.

She would still remember when they called her an ugly duckling when she was growing up, but to the world, she was and continues to be a beautiful swan whose beauty inside helped her speak the truth, making the world a little better for all.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt 1884-1962

Bebes Terribles

The Resistance movement in France that began in 1940 and was made up of active resisters in the four years before D-Day constituted not a small minority of the French population but a tiny one—perhaps as low as two percent of the population were actively engaged in publishing underground newspapers, sabotage operations, intelligence gathering, recruiting, or participating in one of the networks designed to rescue Allied fliers. About one in ten were women.

Simone Segouin 1925-present

Of a morning in France early in 1944, German soldiers emerged from a barracks to find all the tires of their bicycles and motorbikes slashed. One bicycle was missing – stolen. It wasn’t known exactly who the thief was, but it was a young French woman, Simone Segouin. She hid the bike and later repainted it to use as a messenger between Resistance factions.

Simone Segouin, just 18 years old, had met Resistance commander Roland Boursier in the countryside outside her village of Thivars near Chartres. They’d fallen in love, and it was Boursier who asked her to become a messenger for his unit. Eventually, he asked Segouin to join up. Motivated by the example of her farmer father, a medal-winning French soldier in World War I and her French Nationalist beliefs, Segouin adopted the nom de guerre Nicole Minet, received fraudulent identity papers, and joined the FTP, the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, the Free-Shooters and Partisans.

Partisans trained her to use captured weapons. She carried a Schmeisser MP-40 sub-machine gun, taken from a dead German soldier. Along with her messenger duties, Segouin started scouting out potential sabotage targets for the FPT. She began going on missions blowing up bridges, attacking German convoys and trains, and even attacking detachments of German soldiers.

Asked once if she’d ever killed Germans, Segouin told of a July 14, 1944 ambush she and two comrades set for two German bike messengers. As the soldiers rode by, all three Partisans opened fire, killing them instantly. Segouin said she couldn’t say whose bullets killed the Germans; but expressed some regret, saying that it was a terrible way for them to die. “They were no older than I,” she said.

American Army correspondents first noticed her “eating a baguette with jam, as much on her cheeks as on the bread. With her machine gun slung over her shoulder,” wearing shorts, a jaunty military hat, and an FPT armband she still looked the part of a young girl, but still a dangerous one.  In the thick of the fighting for Paris, a photographer took a photo of Segouin dressed in her signature attire between two comrades taking cover along the side of a building. The photo of Segouin became famous as a symbol of women in the Resistance.

After the war Segouin was promoted to Lieutenant and honored by being awarded the French Croix de Guerre. She became a pediatric nurse. Her romance with Roland Boursier was long lasting too. While they never married, they had six children, all of whom were given Segouin’s maiden name.

Genevieve DeGaulle 1920-2002

The nineteen year old never saw herself as a gun-toting warrior. But when Marshall Petain, France’s revered WWI general ordered Frenchmen to lay down their arms on June 17, 1940 and to accept defeat , the willowy young history student resolved to free her beloved country from the Nazis.

Geneviève, her relatives, and countless others had walked 40 miles south from Paris to escape incoming German troops when a priest approached their caravan to tell them not to give up hope. He had heard a young French general speak on BBC radio encouraging the French people to never accept defeat and to fight on by any means they could find. “He said we may have lost a battle,” the priest cried, “but not the war. The General’s name was also De Gaulle.”

For Geneviève, the journey would test the limits of her endurance and her beliefs in humankind. Her defiance began with small acts such as tearing down swastikas and pro-Vichy posters. But it grew to include ferrying arms, ammunition, hiding allied flyers moving south towards Spain along the networks set up by resistance groups and creating false letters of transit to fellow resistants. She edited and distributed the nation’s largest clandestine newspaper, the Defense de la France. Moving from cellar to attic, constantly scrounging paper and ink, the paper publicized German atrocities in concentration camps, the roundups of jews, Hungarians, Romanians and other “undesirables,” by the Nazi’s. It posted the names of schoolteachers shot by French police for being too liberal and the movements and whereabouts of German troops.

Few Frenchmen knew who the General was until his niece popularized him in this influential journal. His growing legend made her a target of the Germans, and led to her arrest. She was betrayed by a Frenchman in the pay of the Gestapo in July of 1943.

She was jailed at Fresnes prison before being shipped north of Berlin to the Ravensbruck concentration camp for women. As a so-called political prisoner she witnessed and endured horrors that should have broken her spirit. Starvation, illness, beatings, shootings, overwork, cruel medical experiments and a simple lack of hope were all commonplace at this site known as “the women’s hell,” Inmates slept three to a bunk, fought for scraps of food and were mired in their own filth. She witnessed parades of prisoners being transferred to the death camps at Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau. She saw women forced to kneel in the dirt and then shot in the back of the neck. She witnessed rape. Yet some of the strongest friendships Geneviève would ever know emerged from this abyss and inspired her future activism.

De Gaulle survived her internment primarily because of her possible value as a hostage for her uncle. After her release in June 1945, she co-founded the Association of Deportees and Internees of the Resistance (ADIR), an organization that for 61 years provided female deportees and their families with free medical treatment, soup kitchens, short-term lodging, job training and other social services. Outside of its social work within France, the group waged two internationally renowned battles: one that forced the German government to pay restitution to a group of Polish women on which it had performed crippling experiments at Ravensbrück, and another that forced the French to acknowledge that the government had collaborated with the Nazis and turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. Her Uncle Charles loved her like a daughter, but he did not always embrace her public crusades. She would learn to press on without him, always striving to do what she felt was decent, appropriate and humane. She juggled this social work with her roles of wife and mother of four.

Ten years after her death in 2002, the president of France, Francois Hollande declared she would be interred in the Pantheon, the necropolis dedicated to honored French citizens. Her coffin was placed in the company of Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Antoine de Saint-Expurey, Emile Zola, Louis Braille, Andre Malraux and Alexander Dumas. This is as it should be.

PS: Resistants

The stories of women who resisted the Nazi’s occupation of France, and Belgium during the occupation from 1940 to 1944 is a tale of courage under incredible odds and included British, Dutch, Belgian, Hungarian, Romanian, Italian, Spanish,Canadian and American women. Many were very young and many paid with their lives. If you’d like to read further, Ronald C. Rosbottom’s “Sudden Courage” details the stories of the very youngest in the resistance, all under 21 who in many cases sacrificed their lives to help free France. High School, Grade School and the Boy Scouts all worked against the occupation. They were imprisoned, shot and beheaded if caught. The stories detail incredible courage.

“The General’s Niece” by Paige Bowers is biography that chronicles the life of an that extraordinary woman Genevieve DeGaulle.

The resistance stories of Violette Szabo, Nancy Wake, Jeannie Rousseau and Noor Inayat Khan are all the subjects of biographies.

“Eleanor” by David Michaelis is one of the most recent biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt and is well worth the read. Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of America’s greatest biographers published “No Ordinary Time” about the Roosevelts during WWII and like all her work is beyond excellent.

Try one.




By the time Burke assumed command of Desron-23 on the 23rd of November 1943. A little more than year had passed since the first battle of Savo Island and the attitude of the Navy had changed considerably. As in every war recorded in history, the weeding out of commanders who were less than completely aggressive had begun. Timidity and fear were not the great problem. As always, the ability to think clearly in combat was and is always the deciding factor. As in the case of Lieutenant Commander Ernest Evans’s ship Johnston and Bob Copeland of the Samuel B Roberts DE-413, the “Sammie B,” in the battle of the Philippine Sea, turning and attacking an immensely more powerful force and fighting your ship to the bitter end was the requirement. No careful calculation of odds, simply the ability to subdue fear and react aggressively to the situation. The fate of these little ships was essentially sealed the minute the commanders ordered the wheel put over and began their runs against the Japanese battleships. By doing so they no doubt saved thousands of American lives by allowing the carriers to escape while fooling the Japanese Admiral into thinking he was being attacked by much larger ships. This was a calculated insanity and also what was necessary. Arleigh Burke was that kind of man. He told his skippers that turning towards the enemy could never be a mistake no matter the situation at hand or the confusion of combat operations. He meant it. Soon after taking command, Captain Burke, always in search of ways to weld his team together was walking the deck of the Destroyer Claxton and amidships he spied a young sailor painting something on the head of a torpedo. The seaman, James Bowler was painting a character made famous by Fred Harman’s Red Ryder cartoon strip. This cartoon series was very popular during the squadron’s operations in World War II.  Little Beaver was shooting an arrow at Japan’s Prime Minister Tojo. Due to the high tempo of operations during the squadron’s operations in the South Pacific, the ships’ crews often said they were busy as beavers. This sentiment led Captain Burke to adopt the logo (minus Tojo) for use by the entire squadron and it remains in use to this day. All the destroyers, including Spence soon sported Little Beaver painted on the bridge wings.

The bridge wing of the Charles Ausburne. Captain Burke reading, Little Beaver keeping watch. October, 1943. You can see one of his phone talkers leaning on the rail right behind him. DOD Photo

When you cram over three hundred men on a small ship, work them day and night and sail them into extreme danger, maintaining moral is terribly important. Boys in the service soon grow attached to one another in ways that civilians are not ever likely to do. The close proximity of the living and working spaces plus the need for the young to maintain some sort of connection to their former life opens the floodgates and personal details of the most intimate kind are routinely shared. Poley and the young guys he worked with in the supply department including Lt. Krachunas were on the low end of twenty. Two men in supply were only 17 in 1943.  Rosevelt Copeland from Mansfield, Louisiana whose mother Fannie had to sign for him in order to join the service. At sixteen he had to lie about his age, being too young to volunteer on his own. From one of the poorest parishes Louisiana, De Soto, opportunities for a better life were essentially nonexistent. Rosevelt’s father had been an army cook in WWI. He had served in France and while Rosevelt was growing up he cooked for the local hospital. The hospital itself was an old converted plantation house of two story and still an imposing building when Rosevelt was growing up. In this tiny town with unpaved streets where he lived, it was Jim Crow south every day. Sugar Cane was the business and antebellum south was visible all around. There were homes still standing from pre-civil war days  such as the famous Shadows on the Teche, a plantation dating back to 1834. Wakefield, Belle Grove and the Lady of the Lake plantations still dominated working life . Each one a constant reminder of his low place. By 1940, his father Edgar, was gone to Bossier City, no longer around. It’s hard to imagine what his mother thought about signing those papers. His older brother was married when the war started and had only completed the third grade and of his two sisters, Maggie was nearly illiterate and Mattie had died before her first birthday. Mansfield, with a population 80% black, the Navy must have seemed to the young man a sort of salvation. Perhaps the only way out.

Working just under Poley was Paul Haefemeyer a storekeeper third class from Fairibault Minnesota. He joined up just a month after graduating from Fairibault high school on July 19th, 1943. He would celebrate his 18th birthday in January 1944. He was sent to boot camp at the Naval Training Center Farragut, Idaho. Due to the uncertain intentions of the Japanese, it was decided to build a training center away from the west coast to be certain it couldn’t be invaded or bombed by the IJN. Farragut is in the panhandle of Idaho and adjacent to lake Pend Orielle, a large body of water surrounded by mountains and what has to be the most spectacular views of any Naval facility in the United States. Pend Orielle, the name literally means “earloop” or “hangs from ears” in French, was given by voyageurs after meeting members of the Kalispel Tribe who wore dangling shell or bone earrings. The lake is fed from the Clark Fork River and drains down the Pend Orielle River to the Columbia.  Framed by the Cabinet Mountains on the east and the Bitteroots to the west it as about the opposite of what a boot might expect a naval facility to look like.The base was named after David Farragut (1801–1870), the first Admiral in the U.S. Navy and the leading naval officer during the Civil War. On August 5, 1864, Farragut won a great victory in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Mobile was then the Confederacy’s last major open port on the Gulf of Mexico. The bay was heavily mined (Anchored naval mines were then known as “torpedoes”). Farragut ordered his fleet to charge the bay. When the monitor USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank, the other ships began to pull back. From his high perch, where he was lashed to the rigging of his flagship, USS Hartford, Farragut could see the ships pulling back. “What’s the trouble?” he shouted through a trumpet to USS Brooklyn. “Torpedoes”, was the shouted reply. “Damn the torpedoes.”, said Farragut, “Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead, full speed. The name “Farragut” was chosen for this station by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Commander-In-Chief of all U. S. Armed Forces. Divided into different basic training camps, the third camp built, Waldron, honored the late Lieutenant-Commander John Charles Waldron, U.S.N., who was the Commander of the famous Torpedo Squadron 8. Lieutenant-Commander Waldron led his squadron of 30 men and 15 planes against the IJN fleet during the Battle of Midway, an action credited as establishing the turning point in the engagement. Every plane in the attack was shot down and only one member of the squadron, Ensign Gay survived.

Photographed on board the USS Hornet, shortly before the Battle of Midway. Ensign George Gay (Circled) would be the only survivor of his squadron’s attack on June 4, 1942. (U.S. Navy)

For his heroism, Waldron was  posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Camp Ward where seaman recruit Paul Haefemeyer trained was named for Richard Ward, who during the attack on Pearl Harbor was aboard the battleship Oklahoma. When it became apparent that the  Oklahoma was about to capsize, the order came to abandon ship. Ward, a Seaman First Class, calmly remained at his turret post, ignoring his own safety., he held a battle lantern so that the rest of the men in his turret crew might see to escape. The 76 man crew was able to scramble out the turret door as the mammoth battleship rolled over into the mud. Ward died at his post but saved his shipmates. He was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

Farragut, being so far from the sea with no possibility of using any real ships for training, the Navy imported a shipment of 75 lifeboats, removed from passenger liners held in port by war restrictions. A local girl made good from the nearby little town of Wallace, Idaho, who happened to be on a war bond drive across the country accompanied the boats much to the delight of the recruits.

The base eventually had a population of 55,000, making it the largest “city” in the state. At the time, Farragut was the second-largest training center in the world behind Naval Training Station Great Lakes just north of Chicago. After graduation Paul followed the confusing Naval logic of posts. He went to Memphis Tennessee for Storekeeper school, then Dallas Texas on recruiting duty and finally to Camp Shoemaker near Livermore California where he received orders to the Spence.  Spence was at Hunters Point shipyard in San Francisco for a long overdue refit. He joined the ship in September, 1944. He had three months to live.

Camp Farragut Training Ship. Navsource photo

Paul picked up his new ship at Hunter’s Point. The Spence was undergoing a general overhaul after spending more than a year at sea. Serious repairs were done on mechanical systems that couldn’t be repaired by the fleets destroyer tenders (AD’s) In addition she was being fitted with new and more secondary armaments, fire control and radar apparatus. The adding of this extra weight topside was to make her even more tender in any kind of seaway. The Fletchers were notorious for being wet ships to begin with and as the war progressed they became even more so.

Paul began to get to know his shipmates in the supply department, Poley and  Bean, whom he worked for and Bob Craver, Shelby Ryals and John Kaufmann the Bakers. The Cooks too, Stan “Ski” Jankowski, because if you didn’t know, every man of Polish decent who has a name ending in Ski is invariably known by that appendage. Duane Stalder, Kermit Thomas, Harold Orasi and Andy Martin were the regular line cooks. The other two cooks were the officers mess men, Rosevelt Copeland and Larry Jackson.  

Paul must have been excited, he was still very young and though he had been to boot training this would be his first time at sea. Pretty exciting for a young guy. Being sent to a destroyer must have satisfied his imagination, Destroyers being the darlings of the press and public, fast and deadly and always where the action was. 

As the Spence collected her crew which had scattered all over the United States while they were in drydock, she began loading ammunition and supplies of all kinds. She also took aboard about 100 extra men to be transported west for other duty. The naval war was in full swing now and massive amounts of men and material were being moved by any means possible. The battles of Peleliu, Palau and the march up the Philippines Islands were underway.  Iwo Jima and Okinawa were in the planning stages for the spring of 1945. The Kamikaze threat was very serious which is one of the reasons the ships of Desron-23 which had been out in the fleet since ’43 were sent home. This was done in order to upgrade their armament and radar. 

Under the Golden Gate. The photo illustrates the length to width ratio of destroyers which made them so tender.

On the Way West 1944. DOD photo

As Paul Haefemeyer worked his way into the crew he began to hear “Sea Stories.” Sailors are some of the worlds greatest liars and because they spend so much time at sea they have plenty of time to work and re-work their tales. Off the west coast the Spence was running under condition three which meant standing regular watches and they actually had a little free time. Poley and Bean must have used this time to break Paul in by “educating” him in the ways of the sea. Hanging around the Storekeepers office, swilling gallons of coffee they began to explain things like the way of the ship. They said the the Spence was like all Fletchers, half submarine and half porpoise and when they hit the Pacific he’d better grab a bucket and live on deck for a while, because she would start bucking like a wild horse, first jumping out of the water then diving under it. She would yaw, pitch and roll like she was determined to throw them all off, There were standing orders to never go forward of the bridge in even the least of seas because it was underwater all the time. They told him of a seaman who was caught on the foredeck deck of the Dyson in calm seas and was swept aft, hitting a stanchion and eviscerated. He died before the Pharmacist mate could do anything to save him. The told him of men washed overboard at night and never found. During fleet actions no ship could or would turn or stop to pick up a sailor swept away.  During very heavy weather an officer on the USS Monterey (CVL-26) was knocked down on the flight deck by 100 mph plus winds and slid across the heavily rolling deck only managing to save himself when his feet hit the four inch coaming at the edge. Lieutenant Gerald Ford USNR, one of the Monterey’s gunnery officers saved by a minor miracle.

USS Isherwood DD-520. US Navy photo

And how about the sailor on the USS Guest who went stark raving mad, stole a knife from the galley and attacked and tried to murder another. They had to lock him up in the Lucky Bag for safety because there is no brig on a small ship. He rode around in there for nearly three weeks before they could put him ashore.

Paul learned about all the great fun he would have when he was able to go ashore on a tropical isle for recreation. Most of the reserved places for sailors were enclosed by chicken and barbed wire and on some islands armed Marine guards. “They’ll give you two bottles of warm beer and you can drink ’em or sell ‘em. Wait til you see how drunk guys can get on warm beer when it’s hot as hell. They’s always a baseball game too, if you play. Those games are darned good too. We saw Bob Feller pitch at Purvis Bay. He struck out 29 guys in two games. He’s off the Battleship New Jersey, he’s a gun captain there. Sometimes when you are on a work party you can walk around, maybe swim or go into the jungle and look around. Can’t believe the Marines had to fight in there either. Those Marines are pretty good for trading too, they’ve got all kinds of stuff they took off the Japs, flags, swords, knives, you name it. It’s all for sale. The officers have their own club, Cloob des Slot, you can see them up there drinking whiskey and plotting against the Japs.”

Cloob Des Slot 1943. Arleigh Burke 3rd from left, Lcdr Armstrong of Spence far right. US Navy photo

“Now Paul, it’s going to be rough. The ship gets so hot no one can sleep below decks. You can’t even touch the hull it’s so hot. At night the deck is covered with sleeping sailors. We sleep under the turrets, depth charges wherever we can find an open spot. It rains all the time too. If you can get to sleep, ten minutes later you have to wake up and run for cover. No one takes their clothes off, sometimes for a week at a time. Guys get crotch rot from the heat and sweat and we’ve had guys transferred because their skin can’t take it. When we are in the Slot we’re lucky to get an hour or two of sleep at night. When we’re at General Quarters, no one sleeps, everyone is at their combat station. Maybe you can catch a cat nap on the deck of your gun tub or under the torpedo racks; maybe the depth charge racks but if your on the bridge or engine room you have no chance. Ask Poley there, he’s a phone talker and he never has a chance. As long as the skipper is on deck so is he.”

“We’ll get you all squared away before we reach Pearl. What to do in your day job and at Condition Red (Condition One) or General Quarters. (GQ) When the general quarters gong goes off your first job is to haul 40 pound bags of salt from the foreword stores up to the galley, then run back down and get the scoop shovels.” Paul had to have asked what all that was for and they would have told him the Pharmacist Mates (corpsmen) needed the salt spread on the decks so they didn’t slide in the blood and the shovels to clean up after action. Swallowing hard, but trying to remain calm, he must have thought that perhaps the romance of being a Tin Can sailor might come with a very steep price.

He heard about the very young man who was a loader on the Port foreword 40 millimeter gun mount openly sobbing as he fed ammunition clips into the gun during a Japanese air attack. Not one man on that gun said a word about it. They all, to a man, knew that terror. They all did their jobs, and so did the boy.

They warned him about the newest tactic being used by the Japanese, the Kamikaze suicide plane. The Spence had been at the battle of Leyte Gulf off the Philippines when on October 25 the Light Carrier St Lo, (CVL-63) was sunk by a suicide plane crashing through its flight deck and into the ships torpedo and bomb storage. Crewmen on the Spence watched her burn from the massive explosions and sink in less than 30 minutes. She was only the first.

Death of the St. Lo, US Navy photo

Squadrons are like small towns. Desron-23 was made up of nine small ships with a total population of about 2,800 men and officers. They tied up together, they were alongside the Destroyer tenders together, they were on the beach together and no ship was a stranger to them. Don Pohlemus had three shipmates he went to high school with on his ship. It was the same all over the Navy. Sailors were recruits together, went to training together and served on the same ships. They transferred from ship to ship. In many ways it was a small world they lived in and when a ship was lost many crewman knew men that were on it. It was a loss to all and emotions ran very high in the Fleet.

The Spence is a lucky ship in a great squadron they told him. “She’s only been hit once and that was a dud. So you’re lucky. Take the Abner Read (DD-526), she got her stern blowed off by a mine in the Aleutian Island campaign and the Japs woulda got her but the Bancroft managed to tow her away. They fixed her up at Mare Island and sent her back. We’re not going anywhere ’til it’s over,” they said. “There’s guys and ships been out her since ’42. Captain Armstrong says we have to beat the Japs so bad they could never in their wildest dreams ever think of starting another war against us.”

Abner Read DD-526 at Adak Alaka. US Navy photo

Chapter Nine

The veteran sailors couldn’t wait to tell him about the relentless looking for the trouble the Little Beavers did in the Solomons. Pulling out of Tulagi or Purvis bay in the afternoon and hustling up the slot under cover of darkness on hunting expeditions looking for Jap ships or bombarding shore installations on occupied islands. Running at flank speeds in total darkness, the 9 ships of Desron-23 with the light cruisers Montpelier (CVL-57), Cleveland (CVL-55), Denver (CVL-58), and Columbia (CVL-56) went looking for prey.

Coming October 29th Friday


My Generation

The Two Kings

It was my mother, Barbara Ernestine Hall Shannon who said, “I get that.”

In the days before distraction fragmented family home life, before Little League, Nintendo and Gameboys life for kids was lived closer to home. The major social events in our house revolved around Sunday School, school activities and family. We played outside in good weather and sometimes bad, we did chores, we washed dishes and set the table and when mom could catch us we polished silver, which we all hated. Grandpa Jack taught us to mash potatoes when we were tall enough and to carve a turkey, all things that you could measure on the chart of growing up. We sang around Grandma Annie’s piano, songs from their lives, some written before the turn of the century or from the days when my parents were young. We learned the words and melodies to Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Gershwin  and Broadway shows from the thirties and forties.

yes sir thats my baby

Nearly everyone in the family played the piano. We had my mother’s, a Gulbransen upright her father bought for her when she was twelve for what seems to me the astronomical sum of $300.00. That was in 1930 because we still have the receipt to prove it. Mom had supple hands with long fingers and she could tickle the ivories. My dad, though I didn’t know it for many years, wrote original music when he was a young man. None of it published but his sheet music is carefully stored away to remind us that our old, official, adult parents were once young dreamers.

We always had a radio in the kitchen, and before TV became common it was always on. It would be tuned to a station that my parents liked and the music we first heard was theirs. A teenager in the late 1920’s and a college man in the thirties, he loved the honey dripping voice of “Der Bingle,” Bing Crosby, “Satchmo,” Louis Armstrong and the Big Bands of Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers. Going dancing was a very big activity in those days of the Lindy Hop, swing dancing and the Foxtrot.

I try to imagine my dad, a farmer in flannel shirt and muddy boots, raising three boys on a farm, ever spinning girls across the dance floor at college but I suppose he did. My mom though, it’s no problem at all. She and her sister Mariel, used to take the Pacific Electric Redcars from Long Beach to the Biltmore ballroom in downtown Los Angeles just to go dancing. They could ride the cars from Long Beach through Compton and Watts to Hill Street station in downtown LA and directly to the Biltmore Hotel ballroom where you could swing to the most famous big bands in the country.  

When my parents were courting here in our little town they went dancing in Pismo Beach at the pavilion, cutting a rug, amend that, sliding on the Cornstarch spread on the wooden planks so your feet could slide and glide across the floor. They danced at parties at their friends homes and sometimes in the living room of our house. Mom taught us to Charleston, Foxtrot and as much Jitterbugging as little kids could do.

Our piano benches could be opened to find sheet music, some of it  more than a century old. My grandmother would sit at the piano and play while my grandfather sang in his bass voice, all the hits from their youth. The entire family would stand around her exquisite old upright, from little Cayce to my Grandfather Jack, the Aunts and Uncles and even the Mynah bird sang.  Born in the 1880’s they still loved that music and we learned them too. As kids we were rooted in the music of our family.

Casey would dance with the strawberry blonde, I’m in love with Harry, Lets Do It, Your the Top, Lets call the whole thing off, Oklahoma, I’m gonna’ wash that man right outta my hair, The way you look tonight, and then Stone soul Picnic, Danny’s Song, House on Pooh Corner, Desperado, Tiny Dancer, “Oh, Blue Jean Baby, LA Lady, seamstress for the band.”

When we finally had a television it was Lawrence Welk, Mitch Miller, and Ed Sullivan. Mom taught us “Mairzy Doats” and dad, “Funiculi, Finicula,” although I never did know how he knew a song written in 1880’s Naples. He would whistle Dvorak’s Humoresque; I still do in fact.

As we entered the teen years we listened to what is now known as top forty music. It came over the little transistor radio my dad kept on the kitchen table. The four Tops, The Coasters belting out Charley Brown and Little Eva doing the Locomotion which is where I discovered Carol King, and then Judy Collins, Linda Ronstadt’s Stone Pony’s.

impactsIn high school surfing was the thing for me. My surfboard went everywhere in the back of my 1949 Woody. It sat in the school parking lot alongside 2 or 3 others and the old sedans with the back seat removed so those old long boards would fit inside. The Surfari’s, Dick Dale, Jan and Dean and especially the Beach Boys who for a time we thought actually surfed. About to be born was a new direction in music for me, buying my first Jazz album, “Sketches of Spain” and playing it for my friends. 

I was coming off the highway in Pismo Beach in my ’57 Chevy Belair on the way to work in the Chevron Station on Price Street when I first heard the Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Not a spectacular piece but it opened the door to the British Invasion. We heard the Yardbirds, John Mayall, the very young Rolling Stones and Petula Clark. The Kinks, Procol Harem and Eric Clapton. We didn’t know yet that the roots of that music came from the Juke Joints of our own rural south and the Blues clubs in Kanas City, Chicago and uptown New York, Harlem.

When I lived on the North Shore of Hawai’i in the sixties and seventies, we had no television. Think about that no TV. It seems strange today but it was true. The only dependable entertainment was National Public Radio, FM radio which could be heard over the mountains from Honolulu. It was a marvelous musical education. Each block of time was a different genre. There were all the classical ages down the centuries, There was a show that consisted of nothing but music written for medieval church choirs. They played Gregorian chants, Canticles, Madrigals and common plainsong. There were programs featuring all the ages in the development of Jazz. You could listen to the Duke and the Count, listen to Lady Day sing and the Prez make love to his Saxophone. Charley Parker, Rhaasan Roland Kirk, and The Jazz Messengers.  The inimitable MJQ. The old timers too, Satchmo, Bix, King Oliver, and Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith Sings. Raunchy, Sexual and real. This wasn’t the Louis Armstrong you heard on Ed Sullivan, Oh no, this was the real, dyed in the wool New Orleans street kid playing the original Beale Street Blues.

We could listen to Mariachi and the songs of Latin America and Spain. Reggae from Jamaica Mon. Toots, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley. From Cuba that fine Afro Cuban rhythm, a  mix of American Jazz, West African and Cuban percussion.

From West Africa, Habib Koite and his band Bamada out of Mali. You won’t find it strange at all. It explains the roots of Jazz and Rhythm and Blues.

I learned that there is no style that can be claimed by anybody or any  ethnicity. The native drums in the background of the 1933 version of King Kong can be heard in Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” which they played at Woodstock. 

Mariah, GaGa, Nina, Whitney, Christina at the “Car Wash,” Muldaur, Janis, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jewel, Emmy Lou, Gloria, Gwen, LeAnne, Pink, Chrissy Hyde, Grace, Joni, Anne Wilson who’s “Crazy on You.”

Listen to the lovely Slack Key guitar of Gabby Pahinui and Peter Moon when they play “Wiaalae.” That ain’t no Don Ho white man BS. Apologies to poor Don, he had to make a living. He was actually a very fine Jazz singer and you could catch him in the little clubs around O”ahu after hours. His mother actually had a club on the Windward side called Honeys, where he grew up and began his career. You could cruise over there and here the best kind of Hawaiian music, the old time stuff.

On a Sunday afternoon, dollar pitchers on the Hawaiian Village Lanai with Trummy Young and Kid Orey, old time Jazz men who had played with all the greats in the Jazz world when they were young. You’ve heard “Muskrat Ramble,” that’s Kid Ory.

 When I was a kid we never listened to country music, my dad would turn it off when it came on. But in the Islands I heard the Outlaws for the first time. Willy, Waylon, Merle, Kristofferson and the silvery voice of Jessi Colter. Throw in some Texas gravel sung from the back of the throat and you have Tanya Tucker. Then Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys with his fiddles which led to Stefan Grapelli and Django Reinhardt. Asleep at the Wheel, Gram Parsons and that lovely girl from Tucson, Linda Rondstadt.

Chopin had the chops, Franz lizt and Sergei Rachmaninoff had the big hands. Lizt had pinky fingers like superman. Try Lizt’s Camanella, Wow. Can’t imagine Ludwig Von laying on the floor feeling the vibration he couldn’t hear, deaf you know. The Devil knocking on the door, Da, Da, Da, DA. What an entry. 

You can disagree with Rap but oh my goodness, if Tupac isn’t a poet, who is. Think about this, where does it come from anyway? In the old south where white men owned black men as property, the same as they owned mules, slaves were forbidden to sing at work. Overseers would allow chants called out by senior field hands which they figured would help get the work done. Those field hand chants, sailors chanties, Railroad Gandy Dancers and the scat singers of the twenties and thirties spoke over the music. The speaking slowly took on an importance, an importance that transcended the melody.

It’s all connected. You can hear the seed for Mancini’s Pink Panther in Schumann’s No.7. Just a taste but it’s there. After all, it’s all done with only eight notes. 

But I digress, this entire piece is about metaphor. My mother said, “I get that,” she really did. She said it about the Who’s “My Generation” when she heard them on Ed Sullivan’s show. She meant she understood how kids felt about the time they lived in. It made me love her even more. You see, she never talked down to kids. She kept those doors to new experience open all of her life and I’ve tried to do the same. She taught me not to close off just so I could have a safe place to be. It’s why I don’t look back at a time and say, “It was better then” because it wasn’t. The time is now, always has been. As my friend Roberta says, I wouldn’t go back. She’s right too.

Honey, Melva and Don Ho, Honolulu Advertiser photo



Chapter Seven

Steaming down towards the southwest, caracoling around the transports and carriers the Spence crossed the line for the first time. In the time honored tradition of seamen everywhere, King Neptune Rex ruler of the Raging Main swung himself over the side bringing with him his Royal Court to initiate all the “Pollywogs” aboard into the mystery’s of the Noble Order of the “Shellback.” All of the crew and officers who had never crossed the Equator needed to be introduced to the mysteries of the deep. Arm in arm with His Grace strode Amphitrite, Goddess Queen of the Sea and the Royal Baby wearing his diaper. Stalking the deck, Davy Jones, the mythological evil spirit of the ocean deep was accompanied by the Chief Bear, the Doctor, the Royal Jesters and the Devils.

Neptune seats himself on his throne, Amphitrite seated at his side. Rex bangs his trident on the deck and the Royal Clerk calls for the lowly, slimy pollywogs to be brought before the court to be judged. Their crime? Taking liberties with the piscatorial subjects of His Majesty Neptunus Rex.

The Royal Policeman drags each miscreant before the King of the Bounding Main where he is forced to kneel while his Noble self confers with Judge Davy Jones. Sentence is then pronounced by the Royal Clerk and the victim is dragged away to his appointment with the Royal Barber. Thus begins the initiation rite.

The Dunk Tank, US Naval Archives Photo

Once the Barber has clipped the hair of the Pollywog into a fantastic parody of barbertude, the Chief Bear and his Bearlings begin to administer much further punishment for daring to invade the Royal Realm. Dunking in a mixture of galley slops, grease and garbage then running the Royal Gauntlet, kissing the greased belly of the Royal Baby and drinking of his milk, a concoction best left only to the imagination and any other diabolical punishment the Shellbacks can dream up. No one on the crew is exempt, not even the captain and the officers. When the mayhem is complete, the Royal Court disappears into the sea from which it came and the newly initiated shellbacks spend the next few days trying to clean the slop and grease from their bodies and then patiently and hopefully waiting for their hair to grow back. Proof of this wondrous ordeal given to each newly minted shellback in the form of an official document signed by the senior officer aboard attesting to each sailors entry into the Noble Order of Shellbacks.

Kissing the Baby 1943 Photographer unknown

The earliest verified line crossing ceremony occurred in 1529 in a French vessel named the Parmentier on a voyage to Sumatra. But the ceremony is undoubtedly a far older tradition where seasoned mariners would call upon landlubbers to prove their worth at sea and to show that they can put up with boisterous shipboard humor. It is also possible that the ceremonies hark back to ancient practices where a sacrifice was made to a deity.

The first recorded ceremonies in the 1500s were religious. The rite aboard the Parmentier consisted of reciting prayers, eating a raw fish, and dropping silver coins into the ocean. By the end of the century, the ceremony had evolved into the familiar tradition of today which included a visit by Father Neptune who demands a punishment from the pollywogs for invading his realm..

No one is really sure when or how the Line Crossing Ceremony, “Order of Neptune” came about but the ritual dates back at least 400 years in Western seafaring and was practiced by the Norsemen, Phoenicians, Chinese and Polynesians in some form or other. 

The Equator itself s an imaginary line that runs from east to west on Earth’s surface and is exactly halfway between the north and south poles (the northernmost and southernmost points on the Earth). It is about 40,075 km (24,901 mi) long, of which 78.8 % lies across water. This geographic, or terrestrial, Equator divides the Earth into the Northern and Southern hemispheres and forms the imaginary reference line on the Earth’s surface from which latitude is reckoned; in other words, it is the line with 0° latitude. Along the Equator are the imaginary perpendicular lines that run from pole to pole and represent Longitude. Latitudinal and Longitudinal lines form a grid on the earths surface used to determine where, at any given time, a ship is.

The Spence had a principal navigator as did all ships in the Navy. Lieutenant Commander Frank Van Dyke Andrews was the Exec on the Spence. His primary job as the third in command was to Navigate the ship which may sound relatively easy but of course a ship is barely a fly spec on the surface of the sea. There are no landmarks by which to determine direction, no trees, hills or buildings. Lcdr Andrew’s province was the bridge and most especially the chart house. The pilot house  and the chart house are the haunt of the quartermaster for routine upkeep. The chart house is exactly what it sounds like, a small room built into the rear of the pilot house/bridge where navigational instruments, logbooks and charts are kept. The Chief Quartermaster is the navigators assistant. In addition to his duties supervising his department he sees to it that the chronometers are wound each morning and this momentous bit of news transmitted to the Officer of the Deck, OOD, so that at exact noon he may inform the captain. “Twelve hundred hours, sir; Chronometers wound” in the exact way it has been done since the time of Paul Jones, Edward Preble and Horatio Nelson. He looks after the navigator’s personal instrument, watching that newly minted Ensigns never commit the grievous naval offense that causes the navigator to jump in the air and shout, “Who the hell has been using my sextant!” Making sure the ratings never use the Exec’s dividers to stir their coffee.

The chronometer might seem like something that doesn’t require this kind of care but without knowing the exact time it would be impossible to find exactly where you are on the sea. 

Before the first successful sea-going clock, the navigator could only estimate where he was by using a system of Ded (Deduced) Reckoning. Using an hourglass which was turned: yes, every hour, an educated calculation of one’s position on the basis of compass readings, speed, and the distance run from a known point, with allowances for drift from wind, currents, etc. could be made. Chinese mariners from the Song Dynasty began using them in the eleventh century though they had been invented nearly a thousand years earlier, again by the Chinese. This is exactly how Vasco de Gama, Amerigo Vespucci and Cristofor Colon found their way. Colon did not guess, as every sailor knows, he had a map and he simply sailed west on a line of Latitude until he ran into something. His Ded Reckoning was wrong but that was the Greek mathematicians Ptolemys fault, for he miscalculated the circumference of the earth. 

Ded Reckoning was an imperfect system and the sea is littered with ships which made assumptions based on flawed information. On the evening of September 8, 1923, seven US Navy destroyers, while traveling at 20 knots, ran aground at Honda Point, a few miles from the northern side of the Santa Barbara Channel off Point Arguello, California. An educated guess on position was risky in the days before radio, radar and todays satellite positioning systems.

It is fairly accurate in calculating Longitude to simply use a sextant to measure the Suns angle above the horizon but Longitude was impossible until the advent of an accurate timepiece. By WWII advancements in technology made chronometers extremely accurate, though by that time radio signals broadcast from England were in standard use for setting sea going clocks. Unless atmospheric conditions made this impossible then the chronometer served its purpose.

On the Spence, Chief Quartermaster Carrigan, Mr Andrews and the other, more junior officers would have practiced with their sextants day and night. Using the Sun, Moon, the visible planets, the North Star (Polaris) and many of the lesser known stars as reference for finding precisely where they were. Spherical Calculus was a requirement at the US Naval Academy. All souls depended on the skills of the navigators in knowing where they were.

Polaris fixed position, Night Sky. Northern Hemisphere.

When they crossed the Equator at 0.0 degrees the north star had dipped below the visible horizon and they had their first sight of the Southern Cross. The Southern Cross was the principle navigational star cluster south of the equator. It presented a problem for navigators because it oscillated around the heavens unlike Polaris which remains fixed. If you go outside, find Polaris which is just off the tip of the dipper and you will see it never moves. The stars in the heavens rotate around it like a wheel. 

When a seaman learns navigation he is introduced to the wondrous heavens by which mankind has found his way around all the worlds oceans for millennia. Just the names of stars hint at their discoverers and down through the centuries each of the 57 listed stars used for navigation has a story. Consider Deneb, in Chinese folklore, Deneb was associated with the myth of the weaver girl and the cowherd – represented by stars Vega and Altair – they were two separate lovers who could only reunite once a year. Deneb represented a bridge over the Milky Way that allowed the lovers to meet. One of the older names of Deneb is “Arided”. It is also a word derived from Arabic and it translates to “the follower.” The brightest star in the night sky is Betelgeuse, also called Alpha Orionis, it’s in the constellation Orion, marking the eastern shoulder of the hunter. Its name is derived from the Arabic word bat al-jawzāʾ, which means “the giant’s shoulder.” In fact many of the primary stars were named by Arab astronomer mathematicians. During the eight centuries in which Arab scholars led the world in mathematics, astronomy, literature and medicine the heavens were actively studied and mapped. The Astrolabe, the precursor to the Sextant was primarily developed in the medieval Islamic world. Every voyage of discovery up until the middle of the eighteenth century used the Astrolabe until the Sextant came into common use. 

Practically unknown to the world at the time, the Spence’s navigators were passing into the realm of the greatest navigator’s who ever sailed the ocean sea. The Polynesian seafarers sailed entirely by the sun, moon and stars using no instruments. They used their hands to test water temperature and the surface and color of the sea to find their way across the vast reaches of the Pacific. They had no written language and passed the accumulated knowledge down from generation to generation. What they could do made a mockery of all the mechanical instruments, star tables and charts carried on the Spence. At the beginning of the war the navy had almost no existing charts of the islands they were to fight in. They actually used copies of National Geographic maps and charts dating from Captain Cook’s time. They had no depth soundings or ocean current direction flows. This made operating in these waters exceedingly dangerous.

The entire crew was working, practicing the skills they were going to need in combat. Seemingly endless drills were called. General Quarters, Anti-aircraft drills, submarine sightings, launching torpedos, damage control, training each crewmen in a number of jobs until he could do them in his sleep. Damage control parties crawled around below decks with blindfolds on until they knew every nook and cranny of the ship by feel. Phone talkers, the men who called out course changes, engine speeds, navigation directions and relayed messages all over the ship were tested again and again until the right men like Don Pohlemus were found who could stay calm and relay orders clearly under pressure. 5”/38 loaders and handlers practice endlessly until they could keep up the required 15 shot per minute. Some gun mounts could even achieve as much as 22 rounds per minute for short periods. Young men in the prime of their lives were trained to act seamlessly as a team.

The turrets on a Fletcher class destroyer used a team of 27 men working in harmony to fire every single shot. With four turrets, a full two thirds of the crew were employed in operating just this aspect of the ship. This explains the seemingly massive number crew member aboard. Ten men inside the turret itself and more than a dozen down in the handling rooms and the magazines which were located below the waterline. At speed, a fifty-five pound shell and its fifteen pound powder casing went from the magazine, up the hoist which carried it to the turret, into the gun and was fired every 2.7 seconds. Do this in an enclosed steel box with almost no elbow room, choked with acrid smoke, half blind, deafened and unable to see what is happening outside and do it all in 130 plus degree plus heat.  All the while knowing that a direct hit on your mount will slaughter every man in it. You must work fast. Outgunning the foe is how a fleet action is won. So they practice and practice, endlessly.

Up on the bridge Captain Armstrong was surrounded by the men who followed his orders and directed the ship in all its operations. The signalmen handling all forms of communications, quartermaster attending to steering, phone talkers who relay commands, messengers who deliver written notes but mostly keep the coffee pot going and fetch cups for the officers and senior Petty officers. They were surrounded by sonar and radar techs, the fire control team which pointed the guns and the lookouts which constantly scanned for real and perceived enemies.

Stories abound about firing antiaircraft guns at the planet Venus, dropping depth charges on Blackfish or firing the quad-forties at coconuts. Distant porpoises look like periscopes and in a hilarious story, the Port bridge lookout reported a Japanese bomber headed toward the ship, Captain Armstrong ordered his phone talker to ask the fantail lookout if he could see the plane, his answer was yessir, then a pause, “Sir, The plane, it’s flapping its wings.” Funny , but at the same time, not so.

On September 18th the Spence finally arrived at Havannah Harbor in the French New Hebrides. After a voyage lasting 24 days Spence was entering an active war zone. Six days later she escorted ships north to the Solomon Islands. On the second day Spence opened fire on two enemy planes near Guadalcanal. For the first time in the war she fired in anger.

Spence was under orders to to join a squadron of destroyers which have entered naval history as the most successful and decorated small combat units who ever operated in the Pacific. Commanded by Captain Arleigh Albert Burke, a sailor man who would rise to become the Chief of Naval Operations, the highest command in the Naval service. Burke, was born in Boulder, Colorado, on October 19, 1901. Due to the 1918 influenza outbreak, schools were closed in Boulder and he never graduated from high school. Burke would later win an alternate appointment to the United States Naval Academy given by his local congressman. He graduated from the academy in June 1923, and was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy.

Over the next 18 years, Burke served aboard battleships and destroyers, and earned an MS degree in Engineering at the University of Michigan. When the war came, he found himself, to his great disappointment, in a shore billet at the Naval Gun Factory in Washington DC. After persistent finagling efforts on his part, in 1943 he received new orders to join the fighting in the South Pacific. Because the Bureau of Personnel Admiral had forbidden him to go, a friendly secretary slipped his orders in with other paperwork placed on the admirals desk. When she handed Burke his orders she suggested he immediately bolt from Washington and get out of town and to the west coast before the Admiral found out he had been hoodwinked. Burke took her advice but not before stopping at a local florist and sending her a bouquet of roses.

Ensign Arleigh Albert Burke 1923 US Navy photo

At the time of his arrival, destroyers were being used as convoy escorts and being carefully husbanded by the Admirals commanding the southwest Pacific theater. Burke had other ideas. As the new commander of Destroyer Squadron 23, or DESRON 23 in the language of the navy. He meant to free himself and his squadron from what he considered hum drum back and forth convoy duty where only the occasional Japanese snooper plane was seen. Burke commanded eight Fletcher Class destroyers, His flagship was the Charles Ausburne, DD-570, the Dyson, DD-572, Claxton DD-571, Spence DD-512, Converse DD-509, Aulick DD-569, Thatcher DD-514 and the Foote DD-511. The squadron was further divided in two equal divisions numbered 45 and 46. Spence was in division 46.

When Captain Henry Armstrong had his ship underway and heading up the Slot toward operations the entire crew was on alert, sometimes for days. When leaving its anchorage and heading to sea, Condition Zebra would be set. This was the highest level of security and alert other than General Quarters. At General Quarters all watertight doors belowdecks and topside were secured. Through the hull fittings were locked down and open hatches were secured. All guns were manned, torpedo tubes readied and each crewman on board reported to his duty station. Normally on what are known as Port and Starboard watches, four hours on, four hours off with a full workday in between, a sailor could be on continuous duty for days and when steaming often was. Even very young men can grow so exhausted, they forget to eat and learn to sleep standing up. The Captain has a makeshift cot on the bridge. The Exec and First officer have temporary rack in the chart house. Gunners slept in their gun tubs, Snipes crawled out of the engine rooms and slept in the passageways, too tired to make it to their racks. Officers thinking could and did become fuzzy with fatigue. A diet of the occasional sandwich, coffee and cigarettes barely nourishes the body. Even smoking was difficult, a match or the glow from a cigarette can be seen for miles at sea on a very dark night. On top of all this, the Japanese, contrary to home front propaganda were not the nearsighted monkeys, technically deficient and sub-human as portrayed in the American press.  Far from it, they had been at war in Manchuria, China since 1928 and had a great deal of experience at their craft. The Imperial Japanese Navy may have been the best in the world at the beginning of the war. They possessed the finest torpedo of the war, the Long Lance, their ships were equal to or better than the US Navy’s and their tactics, particularly at night were vastly superior. In the beginning, good old American pluck was given short thrift by the Japanese and a series of tactical disasters by American commanders decimated the Southwestern Pacific fleet. They had routed the Navies of the Dutch, the English, Australia and New Zealand and the United States in every surface action they had fought.

Though the Spence and the ships of Desron-23 weren’t all in the southwest Pacific theater at that time, they knew about the first great ship to ship battle in the Solomons.

The first Battle of the Solomon Sea, Savo Island, known colloquially among Allied Guadalcanal veterans as The “Battle of the Five Sitting Ducks,” was between the Japanese and allied naval forces. It took place on the night of August 8–9, 1942, and was the first major naval engagement of the Guadalcanal Campaign. It was the first of several naval battles in the straits later named Ironbottom Sound, near the island of Guadalcanal. Over fifty Allied and Japanese ships lay on the bottom there.

The Imperial Japanese Navy, in response to Allied amphibious landings on Guadalcanal, and Tulagi in the eastern Solomon Islands, mobilized a task force of seven cruisers and one destroyer under the command of Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa. The task forces sailed from Japanese bases in New Britian and New Ireland down New Georgia Sound (also known as “the Slot”), with the intention of interrupting the Allied landings by attacking the supporting amphibious fleet and its screening force.

The Allied screen consisted of eight cruisers and fifteen destroyers under Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley, but only five cruisers and seven destroyers were involved in the battle. In a night action, Mikawa completely surprised and routed the Allied force, battering the Australian Light Cruiser Canberra, Hit 24 times in less than five minutes, the Canberra was quickly turned into a blazing inferno. The Chicago, hit by a torpedo in the bow, failed to make contact with the Japanese cruisers as they sped past. Captain Howard Bode of the Chicago, left in charge of the south force by Crutchley, failed to send out a warning to Captain Riefkohl aboard the Vincennes in the northern group.

USS Chicago CL-29 after Savo Island 1942

The Astoria commander made it to the bridge and immediately ordered his ship into battle foreshadowing aggressive tactics the Navy would show in later battles. After hammering out a few salvos’, the Captain ordered a cease fire, worried that his men were in an accidental fight with friendly forces. The Astoria ceased firing for vital minutes. It didn’t resume firing until 1:54 am, 14 minutes after the fight began. It cost him his ship. The Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai kept sending rounds at the Astoria until the fifth salvo hit home, piercing the Astoria’s superstructure, midships, and then the bridge itself. The Astoria would hit the Chokai once before it was too damaged to keep fighting. Torn to pieces the “Nasty Asty” survived until mid-morning the next day before rolling over and sinking. She left 219 mean missing or dead.

Meanwhile, the heavy cruiser USS Quincy was also under fire and would get the worst of it. Its commander also worried that it was suffering friendly fire, and the commander ordered his guns silent, and the ship lit up to identify itself. Japanese shells tore through an aircraft hanger and set a plane on fire. It was too hot for the crew to push overboard, and Japanese ships leaped on the chance to fire on a lit up target. Shells landed just short of the Quincy, then just long, and then began raining down on it. Japanese torpedoes set off the forward magazine. The ship’s captain, Capt. Samuel Moore, ordered the surviving gunners to “Give ’em Hell,” just moments before the bridge was hit by an exploding shell. As he lay dying, his body torn to pieces by steel shrapnel, Moore ordered the ship beached, but another officer realized it was already lost and ordered it abandoned. As the Quincy, Vincennes, and Astoria began sinking, the Japanese fleet called off the attack, beginning its withdrawal at 2:15. It had suffered no serious damage, could see that at least three U.S. ships were sinking and had rendered the Australian ship Canberra dead in the water and the Chicago severely damaged.The  battle last just 35 minutes. It cost the Allies 1007 men dead or missing at the cost of one light cruiser and 3 heavy cruisers sunk, two destroyers damaged and the USS Chicago damaged and out of the war for six months.The Japanese fleet suffered only light damage in return. The battle has often been cited as the worst defeat in the history of the United States Navy. Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, commander of the carrier force said, “The Navy was still obsessed with a strong feeling of technical and mental superiority over the enemy. In spite of ample evidence as to enemy capabilities, most of our officers and men despised the enemy and felt themselves sure victors in all encounters under any circumstances. The net result of all this was a fatal lethargy of mind which induced a confidence without readiness, and a routine acceptance of outworn peacetime standards of conduct. I believe that this psychological factor, as a cause of our defeat, was even more important than the element of surprise”. The saga of the Chicago continued. In 1943 when a Naval inquiry board finding was leaked which would have censured  its former captain for not warning the other ships during the early part of the action. He shot himself to death for the shame of it. The US fleet suffered from poor co-ordination, lack of preparation, and was thoroughly humiliated.The battles off Guadalcanal in the 1942 were a very steep learning curve for commanders in the US Navy. The primary weapon of IJN destroyers and cruisers wasn’t their guns, it was the years of practice in fleet maneuvers, night fighting and fire control.

HMAS Canberra on fire and sinking. Photographer unknown

The Canberra had turned her turrets to try and keep her on an even keel as she was flooding. Her damage control teams worked feverishly to save the ship but were rapidly losing ground. She could not make steam and therefore was dead in the water and could not be left afloat so she was scuttled as a hazard to navigation.

Admiral Turner ordered that badly damaged and burning Canberra  to be abandoned and sunk. Once all survivors had been evacuated, USS Selfridge, DD-357 fired 263 5-inch shells and four torpedoes into Canberra  in an attempt to sink her. She wouldn’t go down. Finally a torpedo fired by the destroyer USS Ellet DD-398 administered the final blow. This was the last act in the first battle of Savo Island.

Chapter Eight, Friday October 23rd

By the time Burke assumed command of Desron-23 on the 23rd of November 1943. A little more than year had passed since the first battle of Savo Island and the attitude of the Navy had changed considerably. As in every war recorded in history, the weeding out of commanders who were less than completely aggressive had begun.




Headed southwest from Hawaii the crewman of the Spence began arranging storage for the supplies and gear they had brought aboard at Pearl. During the Naval build up in the Pacific the initial push was for warships at the expense of the ships which supplied logistics. Tankers, repair and supply ships were being added to the fleet as fast as they could be built, but in 1943 there weren’t sufficient numbers available yet. The war in Europe took precedence over the Pacific. Fighting in North Africa had just concluded in May and the buildup for the invasion of Sicily, which was to begin in July and then followed immediately by the invasion of Italy in September. Meanwhile planning for Normandy which was to be in June of 1944 went ahead. All these operations required an enormous quantity of shipping which wouldn’t be available to the Pacific fleet for some time yet.

Cutting corners, scrimping on supply were to be the watchwords on the Spence. Each department went about checking and rechecking what they had aboard. The greatest difficulties faced by the Navy in the Pacific and the least understood at home were the distances involved. You could drop nearly three Atlantic Oceans into the Pacific. Distances were vast. Shipping between continental Nova Scotia and Ireland was less than 2,000 miles. San Francisco to Honolulu alone was over 2,300 and if you continued eastward more than 10,000 miles to Shanghai, China. Escorting the convoy, Spence expected to travel for over three weeks to get to the Solomon Islands. Destroyers are amongst the fastest ships in the Navy but in a convoy they must travel with the slowest ships. There would be plenty of time to make sure everything was just right.

It was a terrific problem for logistics to keep the fleet supplied with the thousand and one things over and beyond food, fuel and ammunition. “Want of a nail,” Ben Franklin’s Old Saw is an absolute law for a fleet at sea. The Spence needed everything you find in your home, everything you need at the office and everything you need at work. She had watchmakers, Blacksmiths, boilermakers and laundrymen, and tailors, cooks and bakers. She carried machine-tool operators, draftsmen and dentists, men who could repair a typewriter and other men who could rebuild a steam turbine and metalsmiths and a master diver. She had gunners, torpedo men, yeoman, radiomen, signalmen and quartermasters. She carried a master machinist and firemen. All the seamen needed to operate the ship were also aboard. And each man carried the tools of his trade. The signalman needs needles and thread and a sewing machine to repair signal flags soon to be whipped to pieces by the wind. The machinist has to have every possible wrench, gasket, bolt, screw and spare parts for the main engines, pumps, fans and all the auxiliary machinery. There is no handy store just around the corner.

The boatswain mates, John Esler, Samuel “Sonny” Rosen and John Saxon ran a school for seamen. Sailors on the deck crew were divided into three watches and it was the responsibility of the Bosuns to school them up in order to maintain the ship. The new kids that had come aboard at Pearl were from all over the country and if one had any experience working a ship it would have been a surprise. A fisherman’s kid would have been “encouraged” to unlearn everything he knew about seamanship. There was the Navy way and none other.

There are no sit down classes on shipboard. It’s all learned on the fly and under pressure. A good bosun owns the ship and you had better figure that out right away. A 376 foot long machine at sea takes a great deal of punishment. Salt water corrosion, the constant working of the hull in a seaway mean that there is never enough time to do all the task necessary to keep everything in good order.

Chipping paint every day, decks, bulkheads, and every part of the superstructure that needs maintenance. If a man is a slacker, well he can crawl between the lowest deck and the ships frame and chip in the ‘tween spaces, laying on his back and scraping rust in the near darkness. Is he claustrophobic, no one cares, he has no choice. Perhaps he will change his tune after that. At Pearl Harbor and the first sea battles of the war they discovered that layers and layers of accumulated paint caused catastrophic fires so now ships were constantly stripped and repainted to reduce that possibility. All the porthole curtains, officers rugs and upholstered chairs were left at Pearl or thrown over the side. Absolutely everything that could burn and could be spared was gotten rid off. If your ship is burning you have nowhere to go but over the side. Every sailor in the Navy goes to firefighting school and practices constantly.

The kid from the midwest is likely to know what a rope is. The problem; there is no rope on a ship. There are lines, cables, hawsers. stays, breast lines, spring lines but no ropes and woe betide the swab that calls them that. You have to know the difference between a hitch and a bend or how to backsplice. Know where the bitter end is and how to find the Pelican Hook.

Better learn in a hurry too. Bosun’s are supposed to be tough. They don’t stand for any nonsense. John Saxon was one of eight children born to parents who had immigrated from Slovakia in 1913. His father was a laborer and spoke Slovak and just a smattering of english. His mother stayed at home and raised kids. His brother John was in the Navy and his younger brother worked in the Merchant Marine as an Able Seaman. At five eight, 170 pounds, when his grey eyes narrowed, you’d better set to with a will.

Those assigned to guns learned how to dismantle, clean, oil and reassemble their charges. Gunners Mate Frank Baeder came from central Pennsylvania, the descendants of German immigrants who arrived in America just before the revolution. As a Gunners Mate his primary purpose was to see that his men could fix any part of the guns they were assigned. They must be able to operate them at lightening speed. As they headed west the gunners practiced everyday, firing at sleds towed by other ships or sleeves towed by the catapult planes from cruisers and battleships.

Muriel Owens, was born just a year before Don Polhemus. He came west from Lawrence, Missouri with his parents Arlye and Golden “Goldie” Owens during the dust bowl years. His parents were fruit pickers but managed to get all four of their kids through high school in Anaheim. His brother Royce had been lost when the Jacob Jones DD-130 was torpedoed off the coast of New Jersey in 1942. Only 12 sailors survived. Muriels brother-in-law, John Ladd was also aboard Spence. His little brother Holly was stationed on the USS Kaskaskia AO-27, a fleet oiler and would have occasion to fuel the Spence during combat operations in 1944. The Owens family displayed four stars in their front window, one Gold and three Blue.

Muriel Gordon Owens SM-2C and Samuel “Sonny” Rosen BM-1C

Whether his mother taught him to sew or not, Muriel could make a sewing machine hum now. He was an expert at morse code, could read signal flags, send wig wag and operate the blinker lights with lightning speed. In enemy waters, radio communications were kept to an absolute minimum as the enemy was likely listening. Visual replaced TBS, “Talk Between Ships” with few exceptions.

With the loss of the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies and Singapore there was now not a single large scale naval base between Pearl Harbor and Colombo, Sri Lanka or Bombay, India. This created a task of gigantic magnitude for the Service Force of the Pacific Fleet. The Service Force had to supply the needles, thread, bolts, typewriters and paper for the fighting units. All the imponderable paraphernalia of sea warfare was carried across the vast Pacific by navy and merchant freighters, tankers and repair ships.

USS Kaskaskia US Navy Archives Photo

As she cut westward through the waters of the Pacific, each turn of her screws shortened the time before she would have to nestle up to the big ships and take on fuel. Replenishments or Reps are a friendly affair. Talk between ships in good weather can be done without a megaphone and on deck crew can talk to their counterparts aboard the bigger vessel. The bigger ships sends over little luxuries like fresh bread, ice cream, magazines, books and soft drinks as the smaller destroyer bounces and tosses alongside. Occasionally the ship’s band would serenade the Small Boys churning nearby.

Destroyer USS Dyson DD-572 High-Lining

Captain Henry Jacques Armstrong, Naval Academy 1927 was from Salt Lake City. He had served in a variety of ships in the years before taking command of the Spence in 1942. An experienced ship handler he loved his little ship and liked to handle her like a hot rod. When approaching a carrier or tanker to fuel, he would run up to the larger ship at 30 knots, nearly top speed and then “Crash Back” by reversing the screws, the same as slamming on the brakes, slowing the ship to the same speed as the larger ship at the last moment. His crew loved it. The dashing little ships gave fits to the the larger ship’s captains, sometimes causing a little consternation on their bridges. Captain shouting through the megaphones to “Get that damn ship away from the side.” Perhaps a little jealousy too, from the officers on the plodding giants.

Three hundred twenty nine men on the Spence may seem excessive but the needs of a wartime ship are legion. Like any other organization destroyers are divided into departments. Each department is responsible for certain duties applied to the running of the ship. Most visible, of course, is the first division which is responsible for the upkeep and operation of all things topside. Chipping and painting, tying up and letting go when entering or living an anchorage, fueling both at anchor and while underway and the general physical plant above deck. Deck division sailors are also used by the other ships departments as needed. First Division provided the majority of the bridge watch standers and the gun crews. The Gunnery Officer – Or “Gun Boss” was responsible for operation and maintenance of all of the ship’s armament plus all matters relating to deck seamanship.

Captain Armstrong US Navy Archives photo

The Boatswain’s Mates (BM) was generally considered to be the senior enlisted rating in the navy, a tradition probably handed down from the days of sail. The Chief Boatswain’s Mate (BMC) was expected to be the most capable seaman on board. Often he was assigned additional duties as Chief Master at Arms (The ship’s head policeman). The other rated BMs were generally assigned individual sections of the ship to maintain. This was a very prestigious assignment and these Petty Officers generally lorded it over the junior non-rated sailors in the division. Sometimes lovingly referred to as “Boats,” the Chief Bosun was a real sailor man. Boats was also involved, under the purview of the Chief Executive Officer, Frank Van Dyke Andrews out of Coronado, California, in the planning, scheduling and assigning of work to the deck crew on ship. In wartime the Navy takes almost anybody who can stand up and the deck crew would have had it’s share of undereducated scoundrels. Though there is a formal process for issuing discipline the Boatswain’s mates had to be handy with their fists. Minor infractions could and were handled with a rough sort of discipline that would have been recognized in Admiral Nelson’s Navy. Regardless, the deck crew was proud of their standing in the navy and took great pride in it. Referred to as “Deck Apes” by other sailors they took a perverse pride in their toughness and the name. Boatswain Mates were superb at “Make Do,” they could find it, fix it or make it when they had to.

Don Polhemus’s department was Supply. His officer was Lieutenant (JG) Alphonso S “Al” Krauchunas, twenty four, from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was born in a  Wisconsin farmhouse to Lithuanian immigrant parents and like most of Spence’s crew never saw the ocean before coming aboard in April 1944. A supply and disbursement officer, he was in charge of “S Division” which was the pride and joy of her crew because of the excellent meals provided them daily by a dedicated group of cooks and bakers. Lest you imagine a gleaming commodious galley, think again. So small and cramped that the cooks literally climbed over each other and hotter than the shades of Hades, working 24 hour a day in three watches, they provided meals for 329 men three times a day plus plate of sandwiches for watchstanders in the long hours of the night. Each meal took in excess of 2 hours to serve with sailors standing in long lines outside the galley. Hot blistering sun, boondockers burning the soles of your feet and Dixie Cup turned inside out to protect the ears it better be chow worth waiting for. Not every ship was as lucky as Spence. It took a supply department who worked hard, used a great deal of ingenuity in procuring food supplies and perhaps some sly Cumshaw on the side.

The ships galley with Hobart ovens and Wolf ranges, three large kettles, mixer and bread slicer. USS Kidd museum photo

The Lieutenant was also the paymaster. These duties made him a popular man with the crew and he was known as Lieutenant “Pay” when he was out of earshot. All hands learned that the husky young officer at five foot ten and 200 pounds was a stalwart shipmate, ever ready to lend a hand when needed.

Alfonso Krauchunas was a graduate of Western Michigan College where he starred as a hard hitting, slick fielding shortstop. He was signed by the Chicago White Sox and was playing in the minors when the war broke out. He enlisted in the Navy as an enlisted man before being commissioned as an ensign in the supply corps. He was a physical education major in college and was a strong swimmer. This skill was important for he dove overboard twice in the Marianas campaign and swam 80 to 100 years to save downed pilots who were floundering and about to drown. The second time, riflemen commanded by Chief Bosun John Esler fired on and fought off several sharks headed for the swimmers.

The officers had a tiny pantry adjoining the wardroom and a section of the main galley is assigned for their use. The cooking, serving and quarters cleaning is done by the stewards department who have no other duties except at general quarters where every man in the crew has a battle station. The mess men on the Spence were all black. The Filipino stewards of earlier days were no longer enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and the other traditional stewards, the Chamorro’s of Guam were unable to serve because Guam was now held by the Japanese. Their battle stations on the Spence were in the lower handling rooms and magazines. They worked at sending powder and shell up the hoists to the 5inch/38 gun turrets. They passed the ammunition just as efficiently as they did the potatoes in the wardroom.

Rosevelt Copeland was one of those stewards. Rosevelt was from Mansfield, Louisiana. His mother Fannie had to sign for him in order to join the service, being too young to volunteer on his own. He had just turned sixteen so they lied about his age. Rosevelt was from one of the poorest parishes in Louisiana, De Soto. Rosevelt’s father had been as a cook in WWI and had served in France. While Rosevelt was a little kid he cooked for the local hospital. The hospital was a converted plantation house of two story and an imposing building when Rosevelt was growing up. In the tiny town with unpaved streets, he lived Jim Crow south every day. Sugar Cane was the business and antebellum south was visible all around. There were homes still standing from pre civil war days  such as the famous Shadows on the Teche, a plantation dating to 1834. Wakefield, Belle Grove and the Lady of the Lake plantations still dominated working life . Each one a constant reminder of his place. By 1940 his father Edgar was gone to Bossier City, no longer around. It’s hard to imagine what his mother thought about signing those papers. His older brother was married when the war started and had only completed the third grade and of his two sisters, Maggie was nearly illiterate and Mattie had died before her first birthday. With a population over 80% black the Navy must have to seem to the young man a sort of salvation. Perhaps the only way out. At seventeen he was the youngest member of the crew.

Fred Cooper was the ranking Steward, wearing a 3rd class crow.*. He had signed up in Shreveport Louisiana in November of 1942 with Rosevelt Copeland and both had come aboard Spence when she was commissioned. Fred had lived with his widowed mother Gurtha in a section called Calumet heights south of downtown. Known as South Chicago, the area had been the destination for Blacks migrating from the mid-south all during the depression,. They were fleeing the grinding poverty and lack of any opportunity to live a better life. Fred’s mother brought him up from Arkansas in 1932 and by 1940 was living in a rented house, taking in lodgers to help make ends meet. Her principle lodger in those days was Judge Wilkinson, a railroad porter. He worked the Chicago and Northwestern RR. A Porter was considered to be one of the best jobs a Black man could have. In 1940 he worked all 52 weeks and earned a yearly salary of 1,000 dollars which was comparable to a skilled white tradesman. Gurtha earned 300 dollars working as a presser in the retail trade which meant that Fred would have had a fairly comfortable life. Fred had a high school education which was becoming common in the late forties for Black kids. The lodger, Judge was born in Mississippi to a sharecropper family, Andrew Jackson Wilkinson and his wife Alice. Judge had come north in 1932 to work on the Railroads. He and Gurtha both listed themselves as single but were likely living as common law married as she gave her name as Wilkinson on the 1940 census form.

The officers pay for their own food which they buy on shore or from the ship’s general mess. To plan the menus, collect mess bills and keep accounts an officer is elected as the Mess Caterer. He is usually very junior and often a lowly ensign serving his first tour. He sits at the lower end of the mess table at the opposite end from the President of the Mess, the Captain. His term of office is entirely dependent on his own ability and interest. His only job is to see to the state of abdominal contentment of his messmates. Some mess caterers stay in the job for long periods, others are voted out at the end of the month, if the mess bills have taken a sudden and unexplainable rise, if the quality of the food has drooped out of sight , or if the unfortunate caterer has sought to swing the mess toward his own particularly affectations. If a junior officer complains constantly about the food being served he is sure to be voted in next month on the “Lets see what you can do” basis. There was a story going about the Navy about an island boy from Guam whose command of the language was at best imperfect. The first time he was examined for promotion he was asked the first question which is to define the difference between a command and an order. The Navy Training Manual explains it as, in effect, that an order allows for some initiative in how the order is carried out; a command is arbitrary and inclusive. The steward from Guam had his own ideas. “An order,” he said, “is ham and eggs. A command is bring ’em in.” He got his promotion.

On a destroyer the bakeshop is a four by four space. The Bakers can turn out light crusty bread, delicious pies and cake. Unfortunately a design flaw led the baking ovens exhaust up near the bridge. On baking nights, the mid- watch, from midnight to 4 am was as hazardous as the Japanese were to the watch standers on the bridge who had to smell the odors wafting from the ovens exhaust. Many a seaman was laid low by the aroma of baking apple pie. For this savage duty, they were usually allowed into the galley first for breakfast and, just perhaps received a slice of pie with chow. Every ship in the Navy held mid-watch snacks as sacred.

Baker first class Charley Craver cut his teeth working at the Romeo and Juliet Bakery in Miami before going into the navy. The Spence was lucky to have a man of his talents. He was backed up by Bkr 2nd Shelby Ryals from Lowndes, Alabama and Johnny Kaufman, Bkr 3rd. Shelby Ryals had worked for the American Bakery Company in Montgomery, Alabama and likely knew what his rate would be the day he put his employer’s name down on his enlistment papers. Sailors and officers stepped lightly around these men, they knew which side their bread was buttered on.

Two of the ranking petty officers in Krauchuna’s department were Don “Poley” Polhemus and Charley Reed Bean from Moorefield, Hardy County, West Virginia. Charley had a fit name, Bean, for he was one, 6′ 2″ and only 160 pounds he was a string bean. He had the blue eyes and ruddy complexion of his forebears. Moorefield was very small town folded into the corduroy mountains of the Appalachian Plateau west of the Alleghenies. They were almost due west of Washington DC. Only about 100 miles west, Hardy county was not just a world away when he was born but almost a galaxy distant. Situated on the south fork of the Potomac, Moorefield was just a speck, a far, far distant place. Charley was born from pioneer stock who had lived in the same small county for over two hundred years. His parents, Orvan and Essie where good solid Irish stock, the kind of people who persevered. They had little schooling and ran a small bee keeping operation while he worked in the lumber mill. He originally hailed from Snyder Knob and she from Capon Springs, both in Hardy county. Charley, born in 1923, the middle child of three. With the advent of family radios he must have dreamed of a world outside the mountains he was raised in. His was the first generation raised on radio which brought in the world outside the small world of Moorefield.  He finished high school school in 1941 and went to Hagerstown, Maryland to work in the Fairchild Aircraft factory. Fairchild was feverishly building PT-19 trainers for the Navy and Army Air Corps. It was a good job. Training as a machinist, the same as “Poley,” both would have received essential industry deferments but neither wanted to miss out. Charley joined on up, the Navy was for him. Perhaps to see the world or maybe as a way to avoid ground combat or falling out of the sky. Who’s to know, they just did what young men have always done, they got in the fight. War is a very young mans game.

The engineering department was just what it sounds like. The Chief Engineer bears responsibility for operation of the ship’s engineering plant, electrical generation and distribution, auxiliary machinery, and interior communications. A warship is festooned with pipes, cables, ducts and many other systems that allow for the operation of all of it’s systems, any of which could cripple a ship in combat or sea conditions if allowed to fail. If there was ever any doubt about who was responsible for a piece of equipment on the ship, it belonged to the Chief Engineer. He was also responsible for coordination of shipyard overhauls or periods (availabilities) alongside a tender. The operation of the Two separate engine rooms were his direct responsibility. Why two? A Destroyers main defense isn’t necessarily it guns, it’s speed. It takes superb gunnery to hit a ship several miles away when its able to travel 44 miles per hour. Serious damage to a ships engine room, either fore or aft allows the vessel to continue maneuvering. Loss of both engine rooms and the ship becomes a sitting duck. The engine rooms are the spaces where the Snipes work. Engineers were always referred to as “Snipes.” This term originated in the British Navy when a visiting Admiral said that the engine room on a battleship resembled a “snipe marsh”. Jobs in the engine room many. There are throttle men who take the engine room telegraph signals from the bridge and open and close steam valves to slow or speed up the turns the screws make, there are Wipers who do exactly what the name implies, Firemen the jacks of all trades, Boilertenders who see to water levels in the boilers, and Machinist Mates who maintain all the machinery in the engine spaces and above decks. If you picture a clean and healthy environment this is not it. It’s extremely noisy and a thin film of oil floats in the air, especially hard on the engine room crew because bathing is only a remote possibility. Above all, it is hellishly hot. In the tropics temperatures routinely exceed 130 degrees even at night.

Forward Engineroom Control Panel. US Navy photo

One of the most important men in the engineering department, usually a First Class BT (Boiler Tender) and was  designated as the “Oil King”. He was responsible for all fuel transfer operations plus chemical testing and treatment of the ship’s boiler water. Normally he was a non-watchstander and he was usually provided with at least one full time assistant. All records of boiler water treatment and fuel usage were kept in an office referred to as the “Oil Shack”. The BT rating was considered to have the hottest and dirtiest jobs in the navy. Contrary to what you might think, fuel oil and water are held in numerous tanks throughout a ship and particularly in small narrow ships the contents of thee tanks and the amount they contain have a great deal of importance in keeping the ship in trim. According to the condition of the sea, calm or stormy, the speed at which the ship is traveling and whether or not it is running before a swell, breasting one or sailing parallel to the waves the “Oil King” is primarily responsible for arranging the contents of these tanks in order to maintain stability. The Spence would have held roughly 61 tons of fuel fully loaded or about 188,000 gallons. Steaming up through the slot at 25+ knots she burned about 55,000 gallons every twenty four hours. The “Oil King” needed to balance his load constantly as fuel was burned and be aware that he needed to refuel every 3 or four days depending on conditions. BT-1C Frank Horkey was from Pasadena, Maryland, one of the three children of John and Ada. John Horkey was the son of immigrants from Bohemia and had worked as a stevedore and a carpenter in the shipyards at Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydocks. Young Frank had to quit school after the sixth grade and ended up working at the massive Sparrows Point Bethelehem Steel plant in nearby Dundalk. His brother William worked for the Frank Shenuit Rubber company. Frank was from a solid working class family typical of those that sent their boys to the fleet.

The Oil King had to be very careful in his work. A ship 367 feet long and only 39 wide and top heavy with guns and the superstructure is a very tender ship. She feels every change in wind direction and sea state. A Fletcher in a high speed turn will actually roll her fantail under water and that is in a calm sea. Forty degree rolls are common in almost any sea condition and in heavy weather a top heavy destroyer with insufficient ballast in its fuel oil tanks or seawater pumped into those empty tanks can suffer 70+ degree rolls and even capsize. The constant shifting and ballasting of the ship is an absolute neccesity.

In the tropics where the Pacific Navy fought, daytime temperatures average 80 plus degrees in the summer and cool off to 80 plus degrees in winter. Squalls and rain are an almost daily occurrence, and clear days average only about 6 per month. Rainfall in some areas is as high as 138 inches per year. The few islands with mountains such as Guadalcanal and Kolobangara in the Solomons to which the Spence was bound are relatively dry, averaging around 80 inches. The ocean temperature stays in the low 80’s and 90’s year round.  Now apply these conditions to a steel ship in the days before air conditioning where the only cooling devices were the blowers that attempted to push air around the ship. With few openings topside and full height bulkheads dividing the hull into sections not only was cooling almost nonexistent but just moving around inside the ship was a chore. The only relief was after sunset when the air cooled slightly. If the ship was moving at speed the breeze helped, particularly if there was enough surface chop or a large enough swell that spray came over the bow and wet the deck. Sailors slept on deck whenever they could and it was common to step around sleeping swabs, fully clothed and using life jackets for pillows. These conditions were  the norm when underway or anchored. Just doing your job was difficult under these conditions but the war in combat conditions put many extra and severe demands on crewman. 


Steaming down towards the southwest, caracoling around the transports and carriers the Spence crossed the line for the first time. In the time honored tradition of seamen everywhere, King Neptune Rex ruler of the Raging Main swung himself over the side bringing with him his Royal Court to initiate all the “Pollywogs” aboard into the mystery’s of the Noble Order of the “Shellback.”

To Be Continued October 16th

* Crow is the naval term for the Eagle pictured on the rank badge that is worn on the upper sleeve of a petty officer. They appear on the badges of third class petty officers all the way up to Chief Petty officer. For example, Boatswain’s Mates, Gunner’s Mates, Torpedoman’s Mates, Signalmen, Quartermasters and the like were ‘right-arm’ rates, and their rating badges were worn on that arm.  Conversely, Radiomen, Yeomen (office personnel), Ship’s Cooks, engine-room personnel . . . and that sort, were ‘left-arm’ rates, and the crows were worn on the left arm. This is no longer the practice. In 1948 all badges of rank were moved to the left shoulder. Deep water sailors hated that. In recent years the specialty insignia has been done away with, so a person can no longer tell which rating a sailor might be. The Navy is about tradition and sailors hate this kind of thing. Ratings are proud of their jobs but decisions come down from the Secretary of the Navy who is a civilian appointee and doesn’t give a damn what the sailors think.

Second Class Corpsman, HM-2c (my rate)



Rounding Oahu, slipping through the Molokai Channel and turning Northwest, she passed Diamond head, Honolulu and came to the entrance of Pearl Harbor. She lay off the entrance until the harbor pilot came aboard and steered them through the minefields, torpedo nets and in towards the Destroyer anchorage in the Middle Loch. As they slid past Ford island the destroyed Arizona, BB-39 stood as mute testimony to the savage attack of December 7th just two years before. Just forward, the massive salvage operation to raise the capsized Oklahoma BB-37 was still underway.* Rounding Ford Island to their designated anchorage they pass the old target ship Utah, BB-31 rolled over and rusting away. Some of it’s crew still entombed inside, forever.

Oklahoma US Navy archives

In 1940, the City and county of Honolulu had a population of just under 180,000. Pearl Harbor and Honolulu were, during the war absolutely jammed packed with servicemen. The Royal Hawaiian hotel on Waikiki Beach was leased by the Navy for the duration of the war for sailors and officers recreation. Sailors had other diversions too, drinking at Bill Lederer’s bar on South Hotel Street in Chinatown or strolling River Street which ran along Nu’uanu Stream, Peering into or entering  the cafes, gambling parlors and houses of prostitution which accounted for every single business between the King Street bridge and Beretania Street. These “houses of ill repute,” the local name for them was “boogie houses,” a euphemism used when suggesting a visit to one was “let’s go climb the stairs,” because almost all were in upstairs locations. There were literally dozens  crammed into the very few streets and square blocks of Chinatown, bounded by Beretania, River, Kukui, and Nu’uanu streets, and as the war advanced they grew like mushrooms along the north end. Although illegal, their existence was accepted as necessary. During the war they were very strictly controlled by the military. The Honolulu Police Department having the chore of keeping them in line. The “girls” were medically examined weekly. They were required to live in the houses. They were not allowed to do any streetwalking, and when they went out, they were not allowed to be accompanied by anyone but another girl. Curfew was 10:30 P.M. They could visit only certain beach areas during weekdays. No drugs or alcohol were allowed. The madams had keep the house in a clean, neat, and sanitary condition. No drinking or drugs were allowed in the houses though this became harder to police after the war started.

The girls from The New Senator Hotel featured in an advertisement in the Honolulu Star newspaper, 1940. Photographer Unknown

The New Senator hotel was next door to the famous Wo Fat Chinese Restaurant at number 2 North Hotel Street. Advertised as such, it was most certainly not. The lofty minded dowagers of the oldest Haole families living up in Pacific and Saint Louis Heights and in Kohala district around Diamond Head must have sniffed at such doings. Their husbands who owned the buildings simply remained silent and pocketed the proceeds.

Prostitution was a very lucrative business both before and during the war. Betty Jean O’Hara was one of those girls. She was from Chicago. Her father was a doctor there and she had the benefit of a first rate education. Though her parents were strict Catholics they did allow her to attend parties and movies with other kids her own age. At about 16 she met another girl at a party who was “dressed to the nines,” dripping jewels and smothered in mink. She wore rolled silk hose and a short skirt, the picture of the Flapper. Falling in with the girl she discovered where the money for the fine clothes came from and decided she was going to have that too. She signed up for the “Oldest Profession” and soon after ran away from home and went to San Francisco.

Jean was a very pretty girl and grew into a handsome woman. She was what was known in those days as “Black Irish,” meaning she had raven black hair, very fair skin and very dark blue eyes. She was petite and even slender by the standards of the day. Her good looks and obvious upper class bearing would serve her well. She worked for about five years in a high class “House” in San Francisco and resisted every attempt by her parents to frighten her and bring her home. She was definitely a headstrong girl. Although she always claimed she loathed the life, she loved the money even more.

Elizabeth “Betty” Jean O’hara photographer unknown

She arrived in Honolulu in 1938. She had been recruited by a procurer working the houses on the west coast. The pay for bringing the girls over ranged from 500 to 1,000 dollars. Jean was met at the dock when the Lurline docked by a city of Honolulu detective and escorted to the Blaisdale hotel on Fort Street. There they were explained the rules they would have to live by and that any violations would be cause for expulsion from the Territory. They were given a Territorial Tax Book to keep their accounts and issued a license stating that they were “Entertainers.” They were required to pay one dollar for the license plus 30 dollars a month for each girl to the Honolulu Vice Squad. Each “Entertainer” paid both State and Federal income taxes which was collected by the madam who actually filed the returns. Though prostitution was illegal, the madams operated their houses with permission from the local police.

Open from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm before the war and from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm during the war, the girls could make as much as $4,000.00 a month when the average skilled working man might make $100.00. During the war they were expected to see a hundred men a day. It seems improbable but it’s true.

Jean explained that the girls could not have a bank account, own a car nor drive one. They had to walk in pairs when out, could not date nor be seen in the company of men and were restricted from the “Better” parts of town. If a house broke any of these rules the police and the military would shut them down for a period of time. Money changed hands.

The madam, perhaps the well knownMrs Kipfer that James Jones wrote about From “Here to Eternity,” held their cash. She took one dollar from the three the men were charged and the girls paid for their lodging and laundry with the remaining two. The wages of sin was what was left. It was plenty though and Jean O’Hara bought a house in the Pacific Heights area of Honolulu when she retired. She lived out her days there amongst the elite of Honolulu. She married a local boy and also owned a home in Old Waikiki.

She stated that it was a rough life and she had several run-ins with police for breaking the rules including being beaten and having her ribs broken. The first time she bought a house they caught her and forced her to give it up and go back the brothel. She always said there was no glamour in it, just money.

The Pearl Harbor naval base was not far away, and when a numbers of ships docked after long trips at sea, the sailors flocked to these places and formed long lines outside the doors to wait their turn, blocking entrances to the many adjacent restaurants and shops of all kinds. The restaurant goers and local shoppers, mostly housewives, would thread their way through the lines, unconcerned, in order to get to their destinations.

Lined up 1944. Honolulu Advertiser photo

The Japanese women dressed in their colorful and beautiful kimono and obi, wearing ornate zori (Japanese slippers); Hawaiian women with their holoku gowns and wearing lei around their necks and haku lei on their heads, some of the younger ones with a flower on one ear or the other; Korean women in their voluminous costumes reminiscent of nuns’ habits, only white in color; and Chinese women in colorfully embroidered silk blouses and black silk slacks, some hobbling because their feet had been bound when they were infants. There were Filipino laborers from the pineapple fields, Chinese shopkeepers and Haole boys running errands for the big merchants downtown.

For most of the Spences’s sailors on leave, Honolulu was a new and exotic place. In those days it even smelled good. The sweet odor of the Frangipani blossom pervaded the air in the city. The diverse population of the Territory of Hawa’ii would have been a surprise, especially to west coast sailors like Don who would have been familiar with the race baiting common in the western states.

The night of December 7, 1941 was a panicked one in Hawaii. In the wake of Japan’s surprise attack , Hawaiian civilians struggled to understand what had just happened—and to make sense of the announcement that their island was now under martial law. 

As military and FBI agents rounded up suspected spies and “suspicious persons,” the army imposed a strict curfew. Habeas corpus was suspended, the military took control of labor, and trial by jury was temporarily abolished. More than 2,000 people were arrested in the first 48 hours alone. Hawaii would remain under military rule for almost three years.

“The Army’s readiness to take over every detail of government in Hawaii only hours after the Pearl Harbor attack was in startling contrast to its lack of military preparedness for that attack. Though it was generally believed that there would be war with Japan, few military leaders believed that it would begin at Pearl. The US government and its allies had steadily pushed the Japanese into an economic corner, denying the Empire oil, steel and other imports in an attempt to force them out of Manchuria and northern China. The thinking at the highest levels of the Japanese military was that crushing American, British, Australian and Dutch military bases in the Pacific would cause them surrender or so slow the response that the Japanese would be able to consolidate their gains and be able to resist any counterattacks from the allies. Most Japanese leaders considered Americans weak, the thinking was that the United States would not have the will to fight a cross Pacific war. It would prove to be a mistake, though the issue was still very much in doubt in the summer of 1943.

Military rule meant big changes for Hawaiians. Every person on the island, with the exception of children, was fingerprinted and issued identification papers they had to produce on demand. Civilians were forbidden to photograph any coastal location, which in Hawaii is everywhere. Hawaii’s Japanese Americans, who had long been under surveillance by federal and military intelligence agencies that feared they would side with Japan during wartime, were treated particularly harshly.

Hawaii was a territory, not a state. The laws that established a territorial government in 1900 covered Hawaiians with the protections of the United States’ constitution. Thirty-seven percent of residents were of Japanese descent, including about 37,000 Issei, Japanese-born people who were not eligible for citizenship under the exclusion laws in effect at the time and 121,000 Japanese first and second generation American citizens, referred to as the Nisei. 

Hawaii’s proximity to Japan made it of prime strategic importance, and put the islands at unique risk. Military officials doubted the loyalties of the island’s many Japanese Americans. As the United States sent people of Japanese descent to concentration camps on the mainland, it hesitated on to how to deal with Japanese Americans in Hawaii itself. 

The federal government couldn’t afford to intern one-third of the population of Hawaii: The war effort needed labor and feared such a move might stoke pro-Japanese sentiment. Besides, the logistics of imprisoning nearly 160,000 people in a territory that was small to begin with seemed insurmountable. And so, they turned the Hawaiian Islands into its own type of internment facility instead.

“I wasn’t supposed to speak Japanese anymore,” said Amy Hirase who was a young girl in Honolulu during the Pearl Harbor attack, in an interview. “It was almost like a sin.” 

“The community was fearful of…being taken away,” said Tomoko Ikeda. She was 17 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Her father, a Buddhist priest and Japanese language school teacher, was swept up in an FBI raid soon after the attacks. Though she had enjoyed a thriving Japanese community in the years before the war, under martial law she was shunned by her former friends. “We were totally isolated.”

Many of the period’s rules focused specifically on non-citizens who had been born in Japan. Japanese-born people couldn’t own shortwave radios, gather in groups of more than ten people, or move without requesting official permission. They were labeled “enemy aliens.” 

Other facets of military rule applied to all Hawaiian civilians. “Everybody was under martial law and treated equally unfairly because the military couldn’t target just the Japanese who were so important to the economy.” The Chinese, Filipinos, Hawaiians and Whites were all initially suspect.

During martial law, the media was censored, and press outlets were only allowed to use English. So were people placing long-distance calls. The Japanese language ban affected schools, which were forced to close. Hawaii’s Japanese population had long been subjected to English-only campaigns, but they had never been successful. Now, pressure to speak only English came from both the military and Japanese groups desperate to prove their loyalty to the United States. “Speak American,” they were encouraged.

Though it was not military policy to intern people of Japanese descent in Hawaii, dual citizens, community leaders and suspected spies were rounded up and detained. They underwent military hearings during which they were not told of the nature of their accusations. About 10,000 people were arrested and 2,000 incarcerated, one third of them American citizens.

People could be arrested and interrogated at random, and hasty, biased hearings were common. This policy of “selective detention” had a chilling effect on Hawaiian civilians, who restricted their movements and lived in fear of arrest and harassment. 

“My father lived in constant fear of being sent to a concentration camp, as my Uncle Toru Nishikawa had been. Uncle Toru, born in Hawai‘i, was deemed a threat to national security because he was a reporter for a Japanese language newspaper in Honolulu. He was locked up on Sand Island and later moved to Honouliuli Internment Camp on O’ahu. His bank account was frozen and his wife’s sewing school forced to close.” said Jean Hiyashi would later become the first lady of Hawai’i, marrying George Ariyoshi another Hawaiian Nisei and veteran of the Army intelligence Corps.

Despite being subjected to such harsh restrictions, it turned out that people of Japanese descent did not betray the United States as feared. “With the exception of Otto Kuehn, a German immigrant who was convicted of espionage, not a single one of the internees or detainees was found guilty of overt acts against U.S. laws, no one was investigated for sabotage, and only a few were ever suspected of espionage,”

As time dragged on, so did martial law. Even after the Battle of Midway in June 1942, which was widely thought to have ended the possibility of a Japanese invasion, military control continued. In early 1943, Hawaii’s new civilian governor and a group of influential civilians petitioned the Roosevelt Administration for an end to military rule. The military strenuously objected, and only agreed to turn over some control if it was allowed to continue its regulation and control of labor. 

Hawaii finally got some of its civilian government back in March 1943. But only in October 1944 did martial law end. Even then, though, full control of Hawaii was not returned to civilians. Those designated “enemy aliens” were still ruled by the same restrictions, and the U.S. Army still controlled Hawaiian labor.

Most Japanese boys in the Territory of Hawai’i were not placed in concentration camps as they were on the mainland. When the army asked for 2,900 volunteers, more than ten thousand stepped forward, they joined the military in droves, serving in one of the most fabled Army units in American history, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team which saw the heaviest fighting in the Italian campaign including  the Rapido River and Monte Cassino. They suffered enormous casualties, they had something to prove and their white senior officers were only too happy to oblige them.  In 1944 the 141st infantry regiment of the Texas 36th Division was cut off and surrounded by the Germans. The final rescue attempt of three was made by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the segregated unit composed of Nisei, or second-generation Japanese boys. The 442nd had been given a period of rest after heavy fighting to liberate Bruyeres and Biffontaine, France, but the commanding General, John E. Dahlquist called them back early to relieve the beleaguered 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 36th. In five days of battle, from 26 to 30 October 1944, the 442nd broke through German defenses and rescued 211 men. The 442nd suffered over 800 casualties. “I” Company went in with 185 men; 8 came out unhurt. “K” Company engaged the enemy with 186 men; 169 were wounded or killed. Additionally, the commander sent a patrol of 50–55 men to find a way to attack a German road block by the rear and try to liberate the remainder of the trapped men. Only five returned to the “Lost Battalion” perimeter. The 442nd is the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service. Their motto, a pidgin english phrase, “Go For Broke,” epitomized the dedication to the country they fought and died for. Lest you think that the mix of Texans and Nisei boys from Hawa’ii caused problems you would be mistaken. Combat veterans know no race other than their collective experience; and, in fact, in 1962, Texas Governor John Connally made the veterans of the 442nd “honorary Texans” for their role in the rescue of the Lost Battalion.

Lieutenant Daniel Inouye, 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Congressional Medal of Honor. US Senator from Hawai’i.** Honolulu Advertiser photo

This was the Hawai’i the crew of the Spence took their liberty in. Much of the finer establishments were off limits for sailors like Don and his friends. There were the bars and brothels on River and Hotel Streets, Bill lederer’s bar, the oldest saloon in Honolulu was doing a land office business. You could get your Blues tailored or a tattoo, or just walk around and see the sights. The YMCA and the USO were always packed. If you were lucky you might get a room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for .25 cents. For a dollar, you could have your picture taken with a hula girl. Send it home to your mother if you dared. The beach at Waikiki was great for swimming if you didn’t mind the coils of barbed wire and the armed patrols.

Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiian’s played the ballroom at the “Pink Lady.” He was fronted by the World Famous Hilo Hattie. who would do her comedy routine and sing the song that made her famous, “The cockeyed mayor of Kaunakakai.” She was so beloved that when she died in 1979 she was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl, with her Soldiers, Marines and Sailors.

Clarissa Hai’ili, “Hilo Hattie”

The Spence meanwhile, would continue to exercise off Oahu, refining her combat readiness. She ran anti-submarine drills, practiced antiaircraft gunnery and maneuvering in concert with other ships while preparing for operations in the western theater.  The Spence and two other destroyers were to escort the Light Carriers Belleau Wood CVL-24 and Princeton CVL-23 out of Pearl, sailing toward the sunset on the the 21st.  Finally to the regret of the young men in the crew, they slipped their mooring in Pearl Harbor’s Middle Loch, sailing toward Waipi’o channel, they slid past Ford Island, the water slick with the still leaking bunker fuel from sunken ships where the capsized USS Utah, BB-31 and the shattered ruins of the USS Arizona still lay, her crew interned inside the hull never to be recovered. This a stark reminder of where they were headed and why. The Starboard rail of the Spence was lined with the crew in dress white uniforms, all at rigid attention, some with tears streaming down their cheeks at the horror of it all. Passing Iroquois Point and leaving Mamala Bay, crossing over the exact spot where the old “Four Piper” destroyer Ward DD-139 fired the first shot of the war in the Pacific, they silently ghosted away west.

The Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii represented the front porch of the Japanese Empire in 1943. Though the sea war had moved west 3552 miles to the southwest Pacific, IJN submarines still patrolled vast areas and escorts were required to protect cargo and troop ships. Danger was now absolutely real.


Headed southwest from Hawaii the crewman of the Spence began arranging storage for the supplies and gear they had brought aboard at Pearl. During the Naval build up in the Pacific the initial push was for warships at the expense of the ships which supplied logistics. Tankers, repair and supply  ships were being added to the fleet as fast as they could be built, but in 1943 there weren’t sufficient numbers available yet. The war in Europe took precedence over the Pacific. Fighting in North Africa had just concluded in May and the buildup for the invasion of Sicily, which was to begin in July and then followed immediately by the invasion of Italy in September was ongoing. Meanwhile planning for Normandy which was to be in June of 1944 went ahead. All these operations required an enormous quantity of shipping which wouldn’t be available to the Pacific fleet for some time yet.

To Be Continued Friday October 9th

*One of my high school classmates father was trapped below decks on the Oklahoma for four days until salvage crews managed to cut through the bottom of the ship and get him out. Try and imagine what that must have been like.

** Note that Dan Inouye has the scars from a German grenade including the loss of his right arm which was removed in an aid station without anesthetics.