Letters from War and Home

In honoring Veterans Day, we also recognize the human toll on separated families and those who serve.  Our soldiers, and those cherished by them, express their current existence, their love and dearest thoughts, and perhaps final expressions of hope and regret in letters from war and home.

 

The Revolutionary War

Revolutionary Soldier

Revolutionary Soldier

 

A patriot’s letter to his loyalist father, 1778

Letter from Timothy Pickering Jr. to Timothy Pickering Sr., February 23, 1778. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Letter from Timothy Pickering Jr. to Timothy Pickering Sr.,
February 23, 1778. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

 

In February 1778, Timothy Pickering Jr. received word from Massachusetts that his father was dying. An adjutant general in George Washington’s Continental Army, Pickering wrote his father this moving letter of farewell on February 23, 1778 from his post in Yorktown, Virginia. Born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts, a graduate of Harvard, and a successful lawyer, Timothy Pickering Jr. revered his father but disagreed with him on one critical issue: colonial independence from Great Britain. Timothy Jr. supported resistance to British rule, while Timothy Sr. remained a staunch Tory.

They and later generations carefully preserved their Revolutionary War letters, which remain remarkable windows today to the transformations the conflict brought to all aspects of eighteenth-century life.

 

York Town Feb. 23. 1778.

My Honoured Father,

With much grief I received the account of your indisposition; but at the same time was happy to find you rather growing better, & that there was a prospect of your recovery.  Not that I deemed you anxious to live; I supposed the contrary: —but whether to live or die, I know you are perfectly resigned to the will of Heaven….

When I look back on past time, I regret our difference of sentiment in great as well as (sometimes) in little politics; as it was a deduction from the happiness otherwise to have been enjoyed.  Yet you had always too much regard to freedom in thinking & the rights of conscience, to lay upon me any injunctions which could interfere with my own opinion of what was my duty….Often have I thanked my Maker for the greatest blessing of my life—your example & instructions in all the duties I owe to God, and my neighbour.  They have not been lost upon me; tho’ I am aware that in many things I have offended, & come short of my duty.  For these things I am grieved; but not as those who have no hope.

I am deeply indebted too for your care in my education; I only regret that I improved my time no better.

But altho’ the line of action I pursued has not always been such as you would have chosen, I hope you have never repented that I was your son.  By God’s grace I will in my future life aim at higher attainments in those all-essential points; not only from a sense of duty to my Creator—from a regard to my own happiness here and beyond the grave—but that I may never wound the breast of a parent to whom I am under so many and so great obligations.

My love and duty to you and my mother,
conclude me your obedient son,

Tim. Pickering junr:

To Mr. Timo. Pickering

 The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

 

The War of 1812

A War of 1812 Soldier

A War of 1812 Soldier

 

ROYAL PRISON, Dartmore Oct. 12th 1814 / Yankee privateersman captured in the War of 1812

Dear Sally –

It is with regret that I have to inform you of my unhappy situation that is, confined heir in a loathsom prison where I have wourn out almost 9 months of my Days; and god knows how long it will be before I shall get my Liberty again. . . . I cheer my drooping spirits by thinking of the happy Day when we shall have the pleasure of seeing you and my friends. . .

This same place is one of the most retched in this habbited world. . . neither wind nor water tight, it is situated on the top of a high hill and is so high that it either rains, hails or snows almost the year round for further partickulars of my preasant unhappy situation, of my strong house, and my creeping friends which are without number. . . .

. . .my best wishes are that when these few lines come to you they will find you, the little Girl [his daughter] my parents Brothers sisters all in good helth. I have wrote you a number of letters since my inprisenment here and I shall still trouble you with them every oppertunity that affords me till I have the pleasure of receiving one from you which I hope will be soon. . . .

I am compeled to smugle this out of prison for they will not allow us to write to our friends if they can help it. . . . So I must conclude with telling you that I am not alone for there is almost 5,000 of us heir, and creepers a 1000 to one. . .

Give my Brothers my advice that is to beware of coming to this retched place for no tongue can tell what the sufferings are heir till they have a trial of it. So I must conclude with wishing you all well so God bless you all. This is from your even [ever] derr and beloved Husband.

PEREZ DRINKWATER, Jun.

 

The Civil War

Unknown Confederate Soldier Company E, "Lynchburg Rifles," 11th Virginia Infantry Volunteers, 1861

Unknown Confederate Soldier
Company E, “Lynchburg Rifles,” 11th Virginia Infantry Volunteers, 1861

 

Unknown Union Soldier of the Civil War Circa 1860 and 1870 - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Unknown Union Soldier of the Civil War
Circa 1860 and 1870 – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

 

Civil War Envelopes Are Works of Art—And Propaganda

Envelopes were relatively new for American mail in the 1860’s and printers used them to take sides.

                                                          Veronique GreenwoodNational Geographic

Image Courtesy: Benjamin Wishnietsky, Confederate Patriotic covers and their usages

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1861-1865 american civil war envelope with postmark and postage stamp

1861-1865 American Civil War envelope with postmark and postage stamp
Public Domain Pictures.net

1861-1865 american civil war envelope with postmark and postage stamp

1861-1865 American Civil War envelope with postmark and postage stamp
Public Domain Pictures.net

1861-1865 American Civil War envelope with postmark and stamp

1861-1865 American Civil War envelope with postmark and stamp
Public Domain Pictures..net

I went to camp this afternoon. I got kind of lonesome so I trudged down through the snow to see the boys. While there I recd two letters one from Father & Mother so I thought I would write a letter to you & send in this. I was very glad to hear from you. I have thought of you often to day and wondered if you have had such a snow storm there as we have here. It reminded me of many such that I have seen at home. I did not suppose that they had so much winter here. I guess they seldom do…. The snow must be 6 or 8 in deep now.

We can make ourselves quite comfortable here. To be sure it is not like being in a house but compared with some soldiers to the front we are comfortable.

Dear parents I will try and do my duty and I know the good seed you have sown in my youth and watered with your prayers can never be lost. May it spring up and bear fruit a hundred fold and you will receive your reward.

I feel that there has been a change in my heart although it may not be so great as some experience. Yet with your prayers and an ernest effort on my part I shall conquer the evils which surround me. This will be a consolation to you & I know you will be more willing to give me up should I be called to sacrifice my life for my country’s sake. May your health be preserved and if it is the Lord’s will I hope I may come home to live with you in peace once more. These are my feelings. Take good care of yourselves and don’t work to hard and have everything for your comfort. For what is a few dollars or even a few hundred dollars at the end of a persons life compared to many other things. I hope Jay & Julia and all will be good to you & do all they can to make you happy as no doubt they will.

I hear Henry’s mother & sister are going to move in the village to live. Do what you think best with my colt. How much did Mr Minor offer

I must stop. With much love to all I remain your affectionate son.

Henry R. Hoyt

Confederate Letter

Soldier: Blain, David Allegiance: Confederate Unit/Service, Branch: Artillery, Home State: Virginia, Date Written: Sunday, January 1st, 1860, Location: Virginia (SoldierStudies.org)

My Precious Loulie

Your sweet and welcome letter of the 22nd came on Friday.  I was highly amused at your flirtations with the widower or rather at the combination of it…I hope he will not allow himself to get too much involved tho.  How he can associate with you without loving you, I don’t know.  Still, he has been kind to you + enabled you to pass some pleasant hours, so that I would not like for him to suffer anything from the association. But I know you will be gentle with him, my darling + if he does address you he will love you more after you have rejected him than he did before..

I am going this evening to call on three young ladies – Misses Lynch’s, who live on the farm on which we are camped.  I do not want to go at all, as I still have as great a repugnance as ever to visiting, but their mother has been kind to me + I knew a brother of theirs at the Seminary, who has died since the war begun + I am made obligatious to call on them.  I know I shall be thinking all the time “if it was just my darling Loulie how different it wd be.” T his is the day for the great Chicago Convention. I do pray that God may so order their counsels as to bring about peace, but I am very doubtful as to the result of their labors & very much afraid that we are all of us expecting too much of them.

The shelling of Petersburg has commenced again more vigorously than ever.  I suppose Grant has found that he has gained nothing by his occupation of the Weldon RR. We still use the road, but have to wagon our supplies further than we did before.

I am more than ever anxious to see you darling, but still undecided about when I shall come.  Look for me when you see me, is as near as I can come to it.  Love to Miss M, Kate, Miss Lila + the Dr.  I trust your neuralgia is better.  May God ever bless you my precious one prays

yr own loving + devoted
D.B.

World War I

WWI American soldier, Le Mans, France

WWI American soldier, Le Mans, France

My dear Mother,

Have just come through a particularly nasty period. We went into the trenches on Wednesday night and on Sunday morning at 5am our Artillery commenced bombarding the German trenches and after 20 minutes had elapsed we went over the parapet.  My goodness what a reception the Huns had in store for us, they simply swept the ground with machine gun fire and shrapnel.  Poor old ‘C’ coy. caught it hot and Neuve Chapelle seemed to be a fleabite compared with this.  It was found impossible to make any advance in our quarter, so I dug myself in and awaited events. It was horrible suspense, as I seemed to be the only man untouched, all around me, and being personally acquainted with each man made matters worse, in fact, it’s all wrong to call them men, as they were mostly mere boys.

 About early afternoon I was hailed from the trench as to whether it was possible for me to get back. I replied in the affirmative and decided to run the risk of getting potted on the way. So I commenced crawling on my stomach until about a few yards from the parapet, then made a spring and rushed headlong over the top, nearly spoiling the features of a few who happened to be in the trench and were not expecting me. We were relieved that afternoon, but some of the fellows did not get in until nightfall and these experienced another bombardment… Billy Hastings is quite fit and the only pal left. We have been resting since and getting information but by all reports we shall be up again soon. No rest for the wicked it is said, and if true we must surely be a bad lot.

What a terrible thing about the Lusitania, and with so many Americans aboard. Should imagine there will be more trouble. Have received box and letter dated 6th and am most thankful for everything you are all doing for me. (censored)

As regards the pads, (masks of cotton pads which served as gas masks), all we were served out with were made ‘on the spot’ and consisted of a piece of gauze and tape and were steeped in a solution of bicarbonate of soda, prior to this charge. I lost all my belongings except the Gillette (razor) so should be glad of a few toilet requisites when next you are sending a parcel. Do not trouble about towel and perhaps Frank would get me a shaving brush. Must now close. Much love to all. From your affectionate son,

Dick

World War II

American Soldier in 1940s WWII uniform

American Soldier in 1940s WWII uniform

 

Letters From the Front

Because letters from home were often censored, families and friends of soldiers were often unaware of their loved-ones’ locations and duties. Nevertheless, soldiers’ words relay the many emotions experienced by the men who fought on D-Day.  Many of the details of the landing were only learned by friends and relatives long after the battle ended.

 

France, July 22, 1944

Darling:

…Yesterday I had to visit all the units again, to get statements for my report.  The regiment is in contact with the enemy, so such trips always have their skin-prickling moments. I got back pretty tired about 7 o’clock, just in time to get a phone call from the CO of one of Sirrine’s battalions, also in the line, requesting me to come up to discuss personal problems of his body-guard, a fine young fellow who had simultaneously received word that his sister, an army nurse, and a brother, a flyer, had both been killed in the So. Pacific, and that his remaining brother had been critically wounded with another division here in France.

While up there, I hit the favorite hours for Jerry’s activities, and, frankly, pretty nearly had the pants scared off me, with samples of shelling, mortar-fire, and strafing.  I got back at midnight, having driven the jeep myself all day (my driver being on guard) slipping and slewing through mud axle deep whenever I got off the surfaced roads, which was frequently. I hate to admit it, but after a day like that, I feel my years.  Yeah, man! War is a young man’s game!…

News on 90th has been released.  Maybe you know something now of what the boys have gone through: constant contact with the enemy since D-Day. They’ve taken their losses, too. Somebody says “Old Bill got it today.” “No!” you say. “Son-of-a-bitch!” And you go on about your business, with a little more emptiness inside, a little more tiredness, a little more hatred of everything concerning war.

There is a certain cemetery where some of my closest friends in the division lie. I saw it grow — shattered bodies lying there waiting for graves to be dug.  Now it is filled.  The graves are neat and trim, each with its cross.  Occasionally I visit it when passing by.  Always there are flowers on the graves: Sometimes a potted geranium has been newly brought in; sometimes there is a handful of daisies.  The French people, especially the children, seem to have charged themselves with this little attention. Our bombers are roaring overhead just now, in the hazy afterglow of sunset. In a few seconds I’ll hear the crunch of bombs — a good-night kiss for the Nazis. There they go!

The war news is good; but we’re fighting over optimism. I suppose people at home are elated; the boys up front are still in their fox-holes.

I’ll try to write at least a note every day or so. Take care of yourself.  I’m fine.

Love,
John

American Experience, pbs.org

Korean War

Korean War Soldier

Korean War Soldier

korean-war-letter-of-thanks

Andrew Jiang Hong, 12, in a thank-you letter sent to Korean War veteran Ralph Heck
Michael Sears, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

 

korean-war-soldier-and-korean-boy

Ralph Heck holds a photo of himself and a young Korean boy he befriended when in the U.S. Army in Korea. The boy, 12 to 14  years old, made coffee, shined shoes, and made sure the soldiers were up on time for their work shifts. Heck never saw the boy again after leaving Korea. – Michael Sears

 

Vietnam War

Pvt R Jones of the 2nd battalion, 7th marines takes a standing break during operation Pitt 12 miles north of Da Nang

Pvt R Jones of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines takes a standing break during operation Pitt 12 miles north of Da Nang

 

Thurs

Dear Maxie,

…. Being in DaNang was quite an experience. It is a place of distinct contrasts. There are great big PXs there and the most horrible slums you’ve ever seen within half a mile of each other. The whole place is much busier than here, and they even have traffic jams. The place has much more to offer as far as entertainment and food goes, but I think I like the quiet here a little better.  It’s a little easier to live without a few things than be constantly reminded that you are living well while someone else is starving. It hurts to see something like that. Paved streets, ice cream, and poverty in the same breath; it’s hard to take.

(It was good to get back, to see the quiet countryside again. That quiet countryside was Quang Tri, closer to where the war was going on. But I was more comfortable there than in the relative comfort of DaNang).

Sun

Dear Maxie,

…. No mail came at all today – the second day in a row without any mail. I sure hope the mail comes tomorrow – I need to hear from you to perk me up. Guess the people in DaNang take weekends off, they don’t know that there’s a war going on….

http://www.vietvet.org

 

The Gulf War

Gulf War Soldier

Gulf War Soldier

Dec. 20, 1990

I sometimes am afraid that we just won’t be coming back. I know it’s silly, it’s just how I feel sometimes. I just wanted to let you know how appreciative I am of the care package for Christmas that you sent…. It is very nice to know that there are people out there, besides our families, that are so thoughtful, and care so much about our cause.  It’s difficult to be over here believing that all the backing we have is from our families, but with caring people like yourself, it gives us more of an incentive, to go on, and it helps us believe that there truly is a reason for us all being here, not only to defend our families, but all Americans.  Again, thank you. Support is everything.

 

War on Terror

Pakistan-Afghanistan border. GI standing in the Khyber Pass at the Torkham border crossing.

Pakistan-Afghanistan border. GI standing in the Khyber Pass at the Torkham border crossing.

 

Letter to the Next President on Fighting the War on Terror

November 8, 2016

Dear Mr./ Mrs. President,

War is a terrible event. Death and destruction almost always follow. The war on terror is a global battle between religion and freedom. One of the main questions that is often brought up is: should we be fighting in this war or not? Some say it has turned into our battle ever since the attack on 9/11. Others say it is costing too much money and not worth the life toll. I think America should be sending troops over to help fight and defend the world from ISIS because it would ensure our safety and help redeem those that died on September 11, 2001….After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. joined WW2 to protect the American Dream and defend our country. So, why is now any different?

America has always been the Country of Freedom, but what about safety? We felt safe before 9/11, but now we have become more and more unsure.  

America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Ensuring our freedom and safety are only two of the reasons we should fight. War is terrible, but….our freedom and safety must be preserved.  

Sincerely,

Emma T.

Excerpt from http://www.letters2president.org

 

us-flag

In Grateful Appreciation For Those Who Have Served Our Nation

November 11, 2016

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Remembering 9/11

Innocent Lives Lost

World Trade Center towers following the attack on 9-11

The World Trade Center towers, burning during the attack on September 11, 2001,
in view of the Statue of Liberty, New York City.

Aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. as emergency crews respond to the destruction caused when a high-jacked commercial jetliner crashed into the southwest corner of the building, during the 9/11 terrorists' attacks.

Aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on 9/11.
Emergency crews respond to the  destruction from a high-jacked commercial jetliner crashing into the southwest corner of the building.

A piece of fuselage from United Flight 93 where it crashed in Shanksville, PA on September 11, 2016.

A piece of fuselage from hijacked United Flight 93 where it crashed in Shanksville, PA.
September 11, 2001

 

We Remember the Heroism, Resilience, and Patriotism of Americans

NEW YORK CITY

Father Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department’s beloved chaplain became the most famous victim of the attacks. Judge entered the North Tower after administering Last Rites to people lying on the streets. Shannon Stapleton (Reuters)

Father Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department’s beloved chaplain became the most famous victim of the attacks. Judge entered the North Tower after administering Last Rites to people lying on the streets.
  Photo by Shannon Stapleton (Reuters)

Officer Moira Smith rescues this man and rushes back to the South Lobby
of the World Trade Center to help another. The building collapsed 10 minutes later.

Firemen raise the flag at ground zero following the attack on September 11, 2001.

Firemen raise the flag at ground zero following the attack on September 11, 2001.
343 firefighters died instantly when the Twin Towers collapsed, along with 60 police officers
and eight paramedics.

National 9/11 Memorial and Museum

A reflecting pool on the grounds of the World Trade Center, adjacent to the 9/11 Museum, New York City.

A reflecting pool on the grounds of the World Trade Center, adjacent to the 9/11 Museum in New York City, site of 2,606 deaths.

The Tribute in Light on September 11, 2014, on the thirteenth anniversary of the attacks, seen from Bayonne, New Jersey. The tallest building in the picture is the new One World Trade Center. Image by Anthony Quintano

Tribute in Light, September 11, 2014, on the thirteenth anniversary of the attacks, seen from Bayonne, New Jersey. The tallest building in the picture is the new One World Trade Center.
Image by Anthony Quintano

WASHINGTON, D.C.

First responders at the scene of the attack of the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

First responders battle the fire on the facade and lawn of the Pentagon’s west block during the attack on September 11, 2001.

A rescue helicopter uses Washington Boulevard outside the Pentagon to evacuate injured personnel after the terrorist attack on the building on September 11, 2001.

A rescue helicopter uses Washington Boulevard outside the Pentagon to evacuate injured personnel after the terrorist attack on the building on September 11, 2001.

Firefighters and soldiers unfurl a large American flag over the side of the Pentagon during rescue and recovery efforts.

Firefighters and soldiers unfurl a large American flag over the side of the Pentagon
during rescue and recovery efforts.

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

A rendering of the Pentagon's 9/11 Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A rendering of the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Pentagon Memorial honoring the 184 people killed at the Pentagon and on American Airlines flight 77, flown into the building during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, dedicated on September 11, 2008. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho

The Pentagon Memorial, dedicated on September 11, 2008.
Honoring the 184 people killed at the Pentagon and on American Airlines flight 77,
flown into the building during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho

SHANKSVILLE, PA

“A common field one day – A field of honor forever”

View of the Visitor Center Complex looking west from the top of the Memorial Groves. The visitor center itself is located between the parallel walls. The Learning Center is located to the right of the walls. This view also shows the raised Flight Path Walkway and the viewing window. The Wall of Names can be seen to the left. less

Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, PA.
The crash site of the terrorist-controlled plane with its intended target of the U.S. Capitol,
thwarted by 40 passengers and crew onboard. View of the Visitor Center Complex looking west from the top of the Memorial Groves, in view of the raised Flight Path Walkway, the viewing window, and Wall of Names.

Flight 93 Memorial Plaque near Shanksville, PA

Flight 93 Memorial Plaque near Shanksville, PA

May, 2006 in Shanksville, PA at the site of the United 93 crash on September 11, 2001. Photo by Joey BLS

May, 2006 in Shanksville, PA at the site of the United 93 crash on September 11, 2001.
Photo by Joey BLS

Flight 93 National Memorial

Panel S-67 of the National September 11 Memorial's South Pool, one of two panels that bear the names of United 93's crew and passengers[129] Photo by Luigi Novi

Panel S-67 of the National September 11 Memorial’s South Pool, one of two panels that bear the names of United 93’s crew and passengers
Photo by Luigi Novi

We honor their memory and sacrifice

2,977

memorial-flags-in-remembrance

9/11

2001 – 2016

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Birth of an Anthem

Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key (August 1, 1779 – January 11, 1843) Portrait by Joseph Wood Circa 1825

Francis Scott Key
(August 1, 1779 – January 11, 1843)
Portrait by Joseph Wood
Circa 1825

An American lawyer, author, and amateur poet from Georgetown and Washington D.C., Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

During the War of 1812, Key, accompanied by British Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner, dined aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant as guests of three British officers: Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Rear Admiral George Cockburn, and Major General Robert Ross.  Skinner and Key, there to negotiate release of American prisoners, would learn the strength and position of British units and their plan to attack.  Prevented from returning to their own sloop, Key was forced to watch bombarding of the American forces at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on the nights of September 13–14, 1814.

At dawn, able to see an American flag still waving, Key informed the prisoners below deck.  Inspired, he would compose a poem of his experience, “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” which was quickly published on September 21, 1814.  Adapted to music, it became known as the “The Star Spangled Banner.”  More than a century later, the song was adopted as the American national anthem, first by Executive Order from President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and later by Congressional resolution in 1931, signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Plaque commemorating the death of Francis Scott Keyplaced by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) in Baltimore, Maryland

Plaque commemorating the death of Francis Scott Key
by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) in Baltimore, Maryland

 Fort McHenry

Bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British September 13, 1814

Bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British
September 13, 1814

“A VIEW of the BOMBARDMENT of Fort McHenry near Baltimore by the British fleet, taken from the Observatory under Command of British Admirals Cochrane & Cockburn on the morning of the 13th of September.  Lasting 24 hours, 1500 to 1800 shells were thrown in the Night while the British, attempting to land by forcing passage up the ferry branch, were repulsed with great loss.”

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The flag that flew over Fort McHenry during its bombardment in 1814 would remain in possession of the family of Major Armistead, Commander of the fort, until its donation to the Smithsonian in 1912.

Flag flown over Fort McHenry during 1814 Bombardment by the British. September 13-14, 1814

Flag flown over Fort McHenry during Bombardment by the British on September 13-14, 1814

Replica of the Fort McHenry Flag, Flown in the 1814 Bombardment by the British, currently flying over Fort McHenry

Replica of the Fort McHenry flag,
flown in the British Bombardment of 1814, remains flying over the fort

In a beautiful rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” over 1,000 high-school choir students sing the U.S. national anthem during their annual Kentucky conference. Filmed in 2015, they gather on balconies in the lobby of their high-rise hotel as an appreciative audience listens enthralled. The students repeat their touching performance every year.

God Bless America

4th of July fireworks Washington D.C.

4th of July fireworks Washington D.C.

Land of the Free and Home of the Brave

Statue of Liberty Liberty Island New York City, New York

Statue of Liberty
Liberty Island
New York City, New York


The Birth of a Nation

240 Years

1776 – 2016

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In Memory of Valor and Sacrifice

Quote by John F. Kennedy Overlooking Arlington National Cemetery

Quote by John F. Kennedy
Overlooking Arlington National Cemetery

“Never in the history of the world has a country sacrificed more for the freedom and liberty of all.”

 

The Old Guard transports a flag-draped casket in full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery Army Photo

The Old Guard transports a flag-draped casket in full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery
U. S. Army Photo

When we mourn for such men who have died, ….we should thank God that such men were born.                                              – Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

 

Arlington Cemetery Memorial Day

Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery

Their sacrifice, their pain, their selfless courage  must continue to burn like an eternal flame in our memory.                                       –  Gen. Colin Powell

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In Memory of their Sacrifice

Flag-draped American caskets on National Mall

 God Bless America and our Military

Helicopter flying in front of the Statue of Liberty, New York. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement office of Air and Marine Interdiction provides airspace security over New York City.

Helicopter flying in front of the Statue of Liberty, New York. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement office of Air and Marine Interdiction provides airspace security over New York City.

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“Their sense of duty continues to  preserve our past, safeguard our present, and sustain our future.” 

 

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Capturing Valor

Iwo Jima

Raising the First Flag on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima Left to right: 1st Lt. Harold Schrier[7] (crouched behind radioman's legs), Pfc. Raymond Jacobs (radioman reassigned from F Company), Sgt. Henry "Hank" Hansen (cloth cap, securing flag pipe with left hand), Platoon Sgt. Ernest "Boots" Thomas (seated), Pvt. Phil Ward (helmeted, securing flag pipe with both hands), PhM2c John Bradley, USN (helmeted, securing the flag pipe with right hand, standing above Ward), Pfc. James Michels (holding M1 Carbine), and Cpl. Charles W. Lindberg (standing above Michels). Photo by by SSgt. Louis R. Lowery, USMC

Raising the First Flag on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima
Photo by SSgt. Louis R. Lowery, USMC

February 23, 1945

Five U.S. Marines and a Navy Corpsman Raise the American Flag

 

Mount Suribachi The dominant geographical feature of the island of Iwo Jima U.S. Navy Photo

Mount Suribachi
The dominant geographical feature of the island of Iwo Jima
U.S. Navy Photo

On February 19, 1945, the United States invaded Iwo Jima as part of  its strategy to defeat Japan.  Although not originally a target, the relatively swift fall of the Philippines provided a tactical opportunity prior  to the planned invasion of Okinawa.   Iwo Jima, used by the Japanese to alert the  homeland of incoming American planes, was located  between Japan and the Mariana Islands, a base used for long-range American bombers.  Following capture of the island, America would weaken the Japanese early warning system and provide an emergency landing strip for damaged bombers.

A volcanic  island,  Iwo Jima was heavily fortified and the invading U.S. Marines suffered high casualties.   The elevation of Mount Suribachi’s 546-foot dormant cone was a tremendous artillery vantage  point for the Japanese  in underground bunkers and pill boxes  against our forces – particularly its landing beaches.  As a necessity, American effort concentrated on isolating and capturing Suribachi, a goal achieved on February 23, 1945 with the raising of the American flag just four days following the commencement of battle.  A larger second flag would soon replace the former and  three Marines depicted in the flag raising would be killed in action over the next few days.

As the first Japanese homeland soil  secured  by Americans, it had been a matter of honor for the Japanese to prevent its capture.  Despite  our success in reaching Suribachi, the battle continued to rage for 31 days until the 26th of March.  The 35-day assault would ultimately result in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 deaths. 

The flags from the first and second flag-raisings are conserved in the National Museum of the Marine Corps. second flag, pictured here, was damaged by the high winds at the peak of Suribachi (American flags during World War II had 48 stars, since Alaska and Hawaii were not yet U.S. states). Photo: Creative Commoms

The first and second flag raisings are conserved in the National Museum of Marine Corps.
The second flag, pictured here, was damaged by high winds at the peak of Suribachi
(American flags during World War II had 48 stars, as Alaska and Hawaii were not yet U.S. states).
Photo: Creative Commons

A National Monument

Marine Corps War Memorial Arlington, Virginia

Marine Corps War Memorial
Arlington, Virginia

Regarded  as one of the most significant and recognizable images of WWII, the photo by Joe Rosenthal for the Associated Press, depicting marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima,  was later used by Felix de Weldon to sculpt the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.  Dedicated in 1954, the monument honors the memory of all Marines who have given their lives in service for their country.

Commissioned to design the memorial in 1951, it would take three years and hundreds of assistants to complete the iconic image.  The flag-raising survivors would pose for de Weldon who would then sculpt from photographs the marines killed in action.

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A Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima

“Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”

Posted in American History, Veterans | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Remembering Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941

Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was a defining moment for our country and  propelled the United States into World War II.   Millions of Americans prepared to  enlist and serve for the devastation and losses suffered.

Americans enlist following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 Time & Life Pictures / Getty Image

Americans enlist following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941
Time & Life Pictures / Getty Image

With twenty-one American naval vessels and over three hundred aircraft damaged or destroyed,  Japanese  bombardment  killed 2,403 military personnel and civilians and shattered the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Following an afternoon of monitoring the crisis, President Roosevelt would begin  preparing  a message for Congress.  Though drafted in haste, FDR’s words galvanized the nation with his historic speech.

“December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy

With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph- so help us God.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum 
President Franklin D. Roosevelt Delivering his "Day of Infamy" speech to Congress for a declaration of war December 8, 1941 (U.S. Government - U.S. Archives)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Addresses Congress for a Declaration of War
December 8, 1941
(U.S. Government – U.S. Archives)

Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” Speech

President Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941 in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (National Archives and Records Administration - Abbie Rowe) (National Archives and Records Administration

President Roosevelt signs the Declaration of War against Japan
in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
December 8, 1941
(National Archives and Records Administration)

In Service and Sacrifice

16,100,000 Americans served during World War II

  American military casualties totaled 407,316

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The very soul of a nation is its heroes”

USN Pearl Harbor Survivor, Bill Johnson (January 20, 2004) Wall of Casualties – USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. "To the memory of the gallant men here entombed and their shipmates who gave their lives in action on December 7, 1941 on the USS Arizona" (U.S. Navy Photo)

USN Pearl Harbor Survivor, Bill Johnson (January 20, 2004)
Wall of Casualties – USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
To the memory of gallant men here entombed and their shipmates
who gave their lives in action on December 7, 1941.
(U.S. Navy Photo)

In Eternal Remembrance

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Posted in American History, Veterans | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Father’s Service, PT 161

We honor our fathers for their presence in our lives.  For those who are veterans, we should also remember their service.

DadLT JOHN MCELROY, USN

Prior to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, John McElroy had never considered the military as a career.  Impacted, however, like so many others by that horrific event, he enlisted the following  day and chose the Navy for the devastation and losses  suffered.  Subsequently called to active duty, he was ordered to Northwestern University and the Navy’s exceptional Midshipmen’s School.  There college graduates were trained as naval officers and known as “90-day wonders.”

Seaman McElroy - Northwestern University , 1942 (Back row, 3rd from the left). Appointed Seaman Apprentice on April 11, 1942, the training involved a one-month period of instruction.

Seaman John McElroy (Back row, 3rd from left)
Naval Midshipmen’s School
Northwestern University
Appointed Seaman Apprentice (April 11, 1942)

Excerpts of Lt. John McElroy’s WWII notes:

Training involved a one-month period of education. There was a thorough indoctrination course on apprentice seamanship and instruction in all sorts of nautical abilities, knot tying, survival skills, and such.  This was followed by instruction in ordnance, gunnery, navigation, engineering and PT (Patrol Torpedo).

Seaman McElroy in Naval Training at Northwestern University, 1942

Seaman John McElroy
Naval Training at Northwestern University
April 1942

Upon completion of Midshipmen’s School, I was asked by Commander Bulkeley if I might consider volunteering for Motor Torpedo Boat duty.  In deliberation, I felt drawn to the adrenaline and independence of torpedo boat service and the close engagement with Japanese forces.  It was also nearly the only way I would ever skipper my own boat and the very thought of it intrigued me. Upon receiving notice for selection of duty with the “Mosquito Fleet,” I considered it an honor to serve.

Midshipman John McElroy Appointed May 15, 1942) Prior to reporting to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center (MTBSTC) Melville, Rhode Island June 1942

Midshipman John McElroy
(Appointed May 15, 1942)
Reported to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center (MTBSTC)
Melville, Rhode Island
June 1942

An intensive three-weeks torpedo course was provided prior to reporting for two-months of torpedo boat training at Melville, Rhode Island.  When I first strolled down the hill toward Narragansett Bay and saw those deadly looking boats in the lagoon, I wondered what loomed ahead.

We were trained on an Elco 80-foot PT boat.  She was quite a speed  craft with three large 12-cylinder Packard gasoline engines, a total of 4500 horsepower, and capable of 41 knots.  Each PT boat had four 21-inch torpedo tubes, and several .50 caliber machine guns.  I could only imagine the kind of retribution we could unleash.

Elco 80-Foot PT Boat<br> Navy Photo

Elco 80-Foot PT Boat
Navy Photo

When we started out, I didn’t know an auxiliary generator from a heat exchanger, a lazarette from a flux gate, or a vee drive from a butterfly muffler.  I did learn quickly at the hands of those salty boat captains who never missed a chance to tell us how rugged life was “out in the area.”   We practiced torpedo runs, learned aircraft and ship recognition, and the mechanics of  field stripping a .50 caliber machine gun, although most of us never became totally proficient at blinker.

We made regular torpedo runs on the Vineyard Haven light ship, patrolled outside the anti-submarine nets, ran missions to Block Island, and practiced boat handling at a dilapidated dock in the Fall River.   

John McElroy (R) at MTBSTC in Melville RI (1942) "PT Boats in the Pacific" Military History Documentary

Midshipman John McElroy (R) at MTBSTC in Melville RI (1942)
“PT Boats in the Pacific”
Military History Documentary

Ensign John McElroy (Appointed August 3, 1942) Following graduation from the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center (MTBSTC) Melville, Rhode Island August, 1942

Ensign John McElroy
(Appointed August 3, 1942)
Following graduation from the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center (MTBSTC)
Melville, Rhode Island
August, 1942

Upon completion of Motor Torpedo Boat training, I reported to the Brooklyn Naval Yard at Bayonne, New Jersey.   Assigned to a crew, I was appointed skipper of PT-161.  Following training together, our boat was commissioned into service.  Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade, I was assigned to Squadron Ron 9 under Lieutenant Commander Robert B. Kelly in November of 1942.

Commissioning of Squadron Ron 9 Officers and Crew (Nov 1942)

Commissioning of Squadron Ron 9 Officers and Crew
November 10, 1942

Lt Cmdr H. F. Sasse Commissions Squadron Ron 9 (Nov 10 1942)

Lt Cmdr H. F. Sasse Commissions Squadron Ron 9
November 10, 1942

Squadron 9 Officers November, 1942

Squadron Ron 9 Officers
November 10, 1942

LTJG John McElroy's PT 161

LTJG John McElroy’s PT 161

PT-161 Log LTJG John McElroy, Commanding Officer

PT-161 Log
LTJG John McElroy, Commanding Officer

It was indeed a time of great tension and uncertainty, but also of great patriotism. Our squadron left the states with eight of our boats cradled on the deck of a tanker and my boat looked awkward in its position above the water. Our destination was Panama and it was January, 1943.

Squadron Nine PT boats loaded on SS White Plains for shipment to Panama New York, December 1942 National Archives Photo

Squadron Ron 9 PT Boats
Loaded on SS White Plains for shipment to Panama
New York, December 1942
National Archives Photo

Once through the Panama Canal, our boats were unloaded in the Gulf of Panama and we gave them a thorough shakedown at Taboga Island, the Island of Flowers. Our training at Taboga lasted about 30 days.

I named our boat “Jahnz Canoe.” When you really put the throttle to her, the boat would lift up out of the water and shoot a high rooster tail wake behind us.  Cruising in this patrol boat was an exciting rush. We practiced making torpedo runs on moving targets, assimilating everything but the actual live fire of our torpedoes.

Our boats were subsequently reloaded onto the deck of another tanker and we headed for the South Pacific. It was a long and monotonous cruise southwestward toward the war.  Our destination was New Caledonia in the Coral Sea.

Upon arrival at Noumea, New Caledonia, our Ron 9 Squadron took part in boat exercises along with the battleships Washington, Indiana, and North Carolina.  These took place in a storm with mountainous seas which beat us and our boats terribly. Several had extensive damage and one crewman suffered a broken leg.  Our PT-161 survived but it required patching 10 cracked frames and 32 planks on the bottom of our boat.

Memories I shall remember most about this place are the isolated leper colony, the barrage balloons, and the storm that nearly sunk my boat.  It was indeed a rude welcome to the South Pacific.

Following repairs, we sailed under our own power North by Northwest nearly 550 nautical miles to Tulagi in the Solomon Islands.

Squadron Ron 9 Officers

MTBTC Graduating Class (Hut 35) Oct 7 1942 LTJG John McElroy, 2nd row, 1st on Right

MTBTC Graduating Class (Hut 35)
Oct 7 1942
LTJG John McElroy, 2nd row, 1st on Right

Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Ron 9 Officers Solomon Islands, June 1943 (LTJG McElroy - 2nd from left, back row)

Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Ron 9 Officers
Solomon Islands, June 1943
(LTJG John McElroy – back row, 2nd from left)

Commanding Officer, Ron 9 Squadron, Robert B. Kelly (7th from left) and PT-157 crew with Skipper Buddy Lebinow (eighth from left)

Commanding Officer, Ron 9 Squadron, Robert B. Kelly (7th from left)
and PT-157 crew with Skipper Buddy Lebinow (eighth from left) )
who would later rescue John F. Kennedy of PT-109.

Skippers Webb, Ruff, and McElroy at Tulagi (1943)

PT Skippers Webb, Ruff, and McElroy at Tulagi, Solomon Islands (1943)

Skippers Smith, McElroy, Hayes, Brantingham, and Davidson Tulagi in the Solomon Islands

PT Skippers Smith, McElroy, Hayes, Brantingham, and Davidson
Tulagi , Solomon Islands 1943

Skippers McElroy, Marshall, Litton, and Hayes Tulagi 1943

PT Skippers McElroy, Marshall, Litton, and Hayes
Tulagi, Solomon Islands 1943

 

Silver (Radar Officer) Tiberti (Gunner's Mate) Spivey (Motor Mac) PT-161

Silver (Radar Officer) Tiberti (Gunner’s Mate) Spivey (Motor Mac)

J. D. McGloughlin, Executive Officer, PT-154

J. D. McGloughlin
Executive Officer, PT-154

 

Charles Silver Executive Officer, PT -153

Charles Silver
Executive Officer, PT -153

 

Charles Silver (left)  and J.D. McGloughlin (right), who was the first casualty of Ron 9.   He was killed in action on November 14, 1943.

 

Once in the Solomons, we were now in the middle of the shooting war.  At issue were the airstrips on all the various islands and who controlled them.   Our mission  would be threefold:  prevent the Japanese Navy and Tokyo Express from resupplying island strongholds in the area, prevent  the escape of Japanese forces and their concentrated movement between the islands, and help move Marine-strike forces behind enemy lines.  

We made most of our combat patrols at night. That’s when the Japanese Navy ran their Tokyo Express down the slot south through the Solomons.  Many a brave ship of our Navy had met its fate here in these waters of Iron Bottom Sound,  named  for dozens of ships and planes sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942-43.

Occasionally we witnessed distant flashes on the horizon followed seconds later by a muffled boom which signaled the probable death of a ship and its men.

PT boat heads out for a night's patrol

PT Boat heads out for a night’s patrol

 

Iron Bottom Sound

Iron Bottom Sound
Stretch of water at the southern end of the slot
between Guadalcanal, Savo Island, and Florida Island in the Solomons

Our accommodations at Tulagi could best be described as native casual where mosquitoes and rats were a constant nuisance.   Our tents, huts, native lean-tos, and Atibrine tablets struggled against the thick jungle, heavy rainfall, high temperatures, swamps, excessive mud, and malaria.  We knew we were fortunate, however, compared to the Marines and coast watchers in these jungles.

Establishing the PT Boat Base at Tulagi, Solomon Islands

Establishing the PT Boat Base at Tulagi, Solomon Islands

Tulagi PT Boat Base

Tulagi PT Boat Base, Solomon Islands

The average age of my crew was well below the standard for the squadron but, in my estimation, was the best of them all and soon gained a reputation as an outstanding crew.  Mainly because of the fine crew I had, I was made a section leader, which meant we were in the lead of three to six PT boats on every combat patrol.

PT-161 was always second in Commander Kelly’s squadron, for he knew he could depend on us to maneuver with him at close range under any conditions and into any fight.  Attacking Japanese destroyers and innumerable enemy barges. I was proud of the way my crew laid down heavy and accurate fire, changed out gun barrels, and repaired disabled guns while under attack themselves.

Our Ron 9 squadron prowled mostly in the middle and northern Solomon Islands and as we fought our way through, we had to bum, borrow and steal nearly everything we needed, as we could carry few supplies on board. We were always up front and had inadequate supply lines.  Scroungers were especially prized as crewman, for we were constantly replacing parts and guns with whatever was available at the time, either by salvage or by pirating.  We acquired a 20-mm gun and mounted it to our stern and also added a smoke generator to our transom. Our PT-161 now bristled with guns.

Our Commander Kelly demanded perfection in combat readiness  for all boats, regardless how hard the duty or how short the supplies.   As our bases were bombed on a regular basis by the Japanese, we spent a fair amount of time together in fox holes while on land.  New crewman came and went as men were lost to injury, transfer, discharge and malaria. 

PT Base Rendova Island

PT Base Rendova Island

Rendova Habor Chart 1943

Rendova Harbor Chart 1943

McLaughlin Grove Rendova PT Boast Base Squadron 9, 1943

McLaughlin Grove, Rendova PT Boat Base, Solomon Islands
In Honor of Jason D. McLaugjlin, Executive Officer PT-154
First casualty of Ron 9, killed in action November 14, 1943,

We set up our new forward PT boat base just outside Rendova Harbor on a small island called Lumbaria. They named our new base “Todd City” after Ensign Leon Todd, who had been killed in action on 2 July.

On 3 July we were on the move further north. There was going to be an invasion of the island of Rendova and our job was to protect the flank of our destroyers and our invasion force. We made the move during the night and entered the harbor at dawn.

On the following night, we received a coded message that American supply ships would arrive before dawn. I had just come topside after deciphering the message when we saw naval gunfire near Banyette Point. Moments later there were shells splashing in the water nearby. It was a Japanese task force that had sailed down from Rabaul to shell our shore landing and now were shooting at us.

Commander Kelly was on Buddy Liebenow’s 157 boat. We were the second, followed by Lowry in the 162. Kelly led us straight for the enemy. We went to full speed and tore out across Blanche Channel after them. With the wind and the sea spray in my face and with enemy shells splashing around us, the thought suddenly occurred to me that this was the moment that we had been preparing for all these months.

We were speeding along across the dark water, illuminated only by two-way gunfire into what looked like the sure jaws of death, but I figured we were up to it.  At least I hoped so, as there was no turning aside now.

Apparently there is not much that is quite as unnerving to a Japanese Commander as the sight of three half-crazy American torpedo boats charging straight for you…and that was how we celebrated the 4th of July, 1943.

PT-109

JFK and PT-109 Navy Photo

John F. Kennedy and PT-109
Navy Photo

It was August 1, 1943 that we of the 161 were given a rare night off.  Several sections of our PTs, fifteen boats in all, headed out to the northwest to patrol the Ferguson passage on the southwest side of Kolombangara, a tall volcanic island that was surrounded by nearby islands of New Georgia, Wanna Wanna, and Gizo. For someone that has not been there on a moonless night, it is hard to imagine how dark it can be in the surrounding waters.

It was not until the next morning at the officers meeting that I learned that several of our boats had engaged Japanese destroyers that were coming up out of Kula Gulf through Blackett Strait. It had been the darkest of nights and the action was confusing and scattered.

Due to the inky blackness of the night, the Japanese destroyers were virtually on top of the PTs when they were first spotted, leaving little time to take action. Several boats had made torpedo runs but the results were inconclusive. One of our boats had been lost. It was struck by an enemy destroyer at high speed and cut in half.

There was an explosion and a tremendous fireball flaming high into the air. Our boats that witnessed it from various distances were pretty sure that nobody could have possibly survived that inferno. There were about 1800 gallons of 100 octane gasoline in that boat. No wreckage or survivors could be detected by the other boats.

It was the PT-109 that had been lost. We all felt bad, being friends with many of the crew but life went on at our base, Todd City.  It was not our first loss of this war and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

PT-109 Collision Solomon Islands 1943

PT-109 collision with Japanese destroyer Amagiri
Solomon Islands, Aug 2, 1943

Five days later, I along with several others observed two natives in an outrigger canoe approach our base on Rendova. They came ashore and presented a green coconut shell, which they claimed to be from Kennedy. We were astounded, as none of us had any reason to believe that he or any other of the 109 crew were still alive.

Their names were Biuku and Eroni. We questioned them extensively to determine if this was an actual message from Kennedy. I looked at the coconut husk. On it was scribbled with a knife, “Native knows pos’it… He can pilot… 11 alive… Need small boat… Kennedy.”

We were not completely sure the two natives and the coconut shell were not part of a Japanese trap but within hours a rescue mission was organized and Buddy Liebenow of PT-157 would go in for the actual pickup.  He had been there on the night of the incident and was familiar with the proximity.

As was normal, the run was made at night with departure and speed timed to arrive on the scene during the blackest hours.  Running at patrol speed to keep the wake down, the two natives, Biuku and Eroni, stood beside Buddy and helped him locate the rendezvous point. There were so many little islets out here that it would have been near impossible to find them at night on their own.

An Australian coast watcher named Evans helped set up this whole rendezvous.  Kennedy was to be met at a predetermined spot where he would await with natives in a canoe. Four signal shots were fired by the 157 and Jack returned signal fire. Buddy moved his boat in slowly and picked him up and Jack helped pilot them toward a very small islet near Cross Island on the West side of Ferguson Passage.

The 157 boat eased in toward the shoreline of Olasana Island.  At first there was no sign of the 109 crew and, after a short wait, Kennedy started yelling for them.  Slowly they emerged one by one from the trees and the pickup proceeded forward.  Nothing had happened, as initially considered, but all were relieved to finally swing the boat around and head for home.

It was 0530 when the boats made it back to Rendova Island. It was a joyous occasion with much handshaking, back slapping, and kidding going on. There had been a little medicinal juice passed around the 157 boat on the way back and some of the 109 survivors were “extra happy” to be back at Todd City, along with several of the natives who were joyously singing “Jesus Loves Me”… It was indeed a good night and dawn for all of us.

LTJG John F. Kennedy and LTJG John McElroy Rendova Island August 1943 PT-161 in the background

LT John F. Kennedy and LTJG John McElroy
Rendova Island
August 1943
PT-161 in the background

 

LTJG John McElroy PT-161 Skipper

LTJG John McElroy (left)
PT-161 Skipper

Our war continued on as we slowly progressed to the north. We spent a short time stationed at the island of Vella LaVella at a place called Lambu Lambu Cove. The base was just a few native grass huts and some tents back in the trees. There was an abandoned Japanese barge on the beach. A small dock was used to tie up to for refueling and all the other boats were tied around the cove to trees that grew out over the water. We were told there were still Japanese on the island and to not wander too far off the base.

Other places where we saw action were Lever Harbor, Cape Torokina and Green Island. Gradually we pushed the Japanese back closer to their huge stronghold at Rabaul, their largest base in the South Pacific.

PT-161 docked at Green Island in the Solomons

PT-161 docked at Green Island in the Solomons

There were many nights we returned to base repeatedly for ammunition in strikes against Japanese destroyers and enemy barges.   One night returning to  Kula Gulf on New Georgia, we discovered all our ready ammunition had been exhausted.   Forced to gather old ammo exposed to the elements, we  suffered misfires and hung fires the rest of the night.

I will always remember my crew’s bravery that evening.  In a fight for our lives with eight enemy barges, only one of our main guns remained operational.  Wylan never wavered and remained on the bow firing his .50 Cal. like a madman, while our other guns  were silent.

I ran to check on the other guns and caught Joe Tiberti pulling a smoking 20-mm shell out of his gun and throwing it over the side with his bare hands.  Van der Heiden was ramming the 20’s out of our stern mounted gun with all the force he could muster. There were buckets of water everywhere with hot 20-mm barrels in them. The last barrel was still in place and Van was banging away on a cleaning rod trying to clear the barrel, not knowing what second might be his last as he was hammering on a high explosive round.

I ran back to check on Chase’s twin 50’s and found him working intently on a lap full of parts from both guns and whatever spare parts he could find. There were tracers flying everywhere and a few uncomfortably close to my head but Chase never noticed, except for the light they provided for him to work.  I mentally crossed those guns off as Wylan’s 50 was the only gun firing except for the rifles and a Tommy gun from the remainder of the crew.

On my next run, however, those guns were all spitting fire like a vengeance. Oh, what a wonderful sound!  That was the coolest exhibition of nerve that I have ever seen.  I never dreamed they would have them functioning in the middle of a pitch dark firefight.  I was certainly one proud skipper.  It was a very satisfying feeling to witness the early dawn’s light filter over a sea as smooth as glass with a broom tied to our mast as we cruised slowly back toward our base.

About this time, I began to experience some episodes of chills, fever, and sweats. Our medical officer treated me for malaria and I was able to rebound after several days. The mosquitoes here are very thick. You can sleep under a net but there is only so much you can do.

At this point in the war, our PTs had become personnel barge fighters. The idea was to keep the Japanese from moving men from island to island so they couldn’t concentrate their forces or escape. We also helped move Marine strike forces behind enemy lines.

It was early fall of ’43 that our own forces and Tokyo Rose started reporting I had been killed in action.  I had to write a letter to my folks to let them know that, regardless of reports to the contrary, I was safe and well and still had my boat.  My officer friends, however, started talking about me in the past tense.

Reporting LTJG John McElroy KIA Waxahachie Daily Light November 4, 1943

LTJG John McElroy Reported KIA
Waxahachie Daily Light
November 4, 1943

Again we moved further north to yet another new base, this time at Stirling in the Treasury Islands. Here we also tied up our boats to huge trees that overhung the water. The water was clear and you could see the coral twenty feet deep.

Motor Torpedo Boat Stirling Base Treasury Island 1942

Motor Torpedo Boat Stirling Base
Treasury Island 1942

Life went on as usual on the island during the day with powdered eggs, bugs, air raids, and poker.  I was told confidentially that orders had arrived for me to return to the states.  A day or two later, Commander Kelly called me in. I thought it was to give me the good news but instead confronted me with, “McElroy, how would you like to volunteer for a dangerous mission – a PT boat strike on Rabaul Harbor?”

As we prepared for the raid, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of dread.  It was going to be a twelve PT boat attack, so we were headed for the lion’s den with 48 torpedoes and roughly 150 men.  It was a long passage north through hazardous waters up to New Britain Island, then skirting east around and up to the Duke of York Islands and in to the Bismark Sea.  We were most assuredly in forbidden waters now. 

Around the peninsula and past Sulphur Point and there it was, the biggest Japanese naval base in the South Pacific.  In we went, twelve boats at combat speed, loaded and locked.  This idea might just be crazy enough to work.

We passed a Japanese destroyer 75 yards abeam. Van der Heiden and Frost were in a very heated argument as to the number of stacks and guns on it. Their argument was very soon settled when they opened up on us with everything they had.

I will never forget the sight of all those Japanese sailors running all over the deck. We could hear their voices and, with a sailing rock, I could have hit one of them.  However, we were too close for their big guns to target us.  The lookout in their crow’s nest was now firing down on us and  I figure he was the one that put the holes in our deck.

My crew put up a fight that I shall never forget. On the way back I overheard someone say, “Are those your knees knocking or mine?” We didn’t bring much ammo home but we did make it. With help, we made it.

Upon our return, Commander Kelly gave me the news that I already knew, my orders to the states for leave.   I was steadily losing weight and my strength. The malarial symptoms came back and the docs stepped up my treatment

He also informed me that I had been recommended for a medal.   There was a little ceremony under the coconut trees and I was awarded the Silver Star with an ocean breeze cooling the sweat on my face. The citation came from Admiral Bull Halsey.   I was pleased with the honor but upset at the same time. They should have cited my outstanding crew.

I went to my men and thanked each one of them and shook their hands. It was very hard for me to leave them, tougher than I ever imagined.  We made a great team and, if it were in my power, every one of them would have been decorated.

Silver Star Presentation LT John McElroy

Silver Star Presentation
LTJG John McElroy

Silver Star Citation-1943 LT John McElroy

Silver Star Citation-1943
LTJG John McElroy

Ron 9 Squadron Commanding Officer Robert B. Kelly Letter regarding LTJG John McElroy's PT service during WWII

Ron 9 Squadron Commanding Officer Robert B. Kelly
Letter to LTJG John McElroy’s parents regarding his PT service during WWII

Ron 9 Commander Kelly Letter-3

I was detached from PT service on January 11, 1944 and it was a long and strangely quiet voyage home with lots of time topside for reflection. The doctors told me my war was now over.  There is a feeling of regret about this… but I never lost any of my men and for that I am grateful.  It sure will be good to see home and family.  I hope they recognize me.

Sailing underneath the Golden Gate was very nearly an emotional experience. My first steps back on the dry ground of America sure felt wonderful. I had not realized how great it would feel to be back in the states. The medical officers here treated me for a few more weeks and then I was reassigned to set up a Navy duty station here in San Francisco.

A few months later Eve and I were married in my parent’s home in Texas.  It was April 18, 1944, and we began our delayed life together.

Eve and John McElroy

Eve and John McElroy

John McElroy was appointed to the rank of Lieutenant on April 2, 1944.

John and Eve McElroy

John and Eve McElroy
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana
November 6, 1944 through September 24, 1945

I was reassigned as Seamanship Instructor at the US Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School, Notre Dame, where I served for the remainder of the war.

We operated training craft out on Lake Michigan.  Once dispatched to Jacksonville, Florida with several recruits,  we took delivery of a 104-foot rescue boat.   I sailed it down around the Florida Keys, west across the Gulf of Mexico, and all the way up the Mississippi and Chicago Rivers without the aid of a pilot.  I enjoyed it immensely, as no one shot at us along the entire trip.  It was my last fling as a Navy boat skipper.

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All three of my brothers enlisted for the war.  Tom served as an Ensign on a tanker in the South Pacific.  Pat, just 17, served as a control tower and radar operator in the Army Air Corps.  Bodie, who suffered from a leg injury  from a horse accident in his youth, was rejected by every branch he approached.  Turned down fifteen times, he never gave up and finally begged his way into the Navy to serve proudly in the Pacific as a chief mechanic. 

Following the war, I was released to inactive duty.  When the Korean War broke out, I was recalled and served in the Office of Naval Officer Procurement in San Francisco and subsequently in Albuquerque.  Later transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I served as the Assistant Naval Port Control Officer.

With the war over in Korea, I chose to leave active duty in May of 1955 and returned to Texas, settling back in San Antonio.   Following more than 20 years of active and reserve duty, I subsequently retired from the Navy as a Captain.  I will surely miss it but it was time to move on.

Acknowledgment to the rank of Captain to John McElroy by Rear Admiral Charles Lyman USN

Acknowledgment to John McElroy on the rank of Captain
by Rear Admiral Charles H. Lyman USN

Captain John McElroy (right) and fellow officer onboard ship during USNR maneuvers

Captain John McElroy (right) and fellow officer onboard ship during USNR maneuvers

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John McElroy passed away on February 10, 2001 and was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. 

WWII PT Boat-161 Skipper and Silver Star Recipient

WWII PT-161 Skipper
and Silver Star Recipient

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In Tribute to my Father and all PT Boat Veterans

“We stand on the backs of their service and sacrifice”

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