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We would fight not for the political future of a distant city, rather for principles whose destruction would ruin the possibility of peace and security for the peoples of the earth.-- Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
I have read several articles written recently regarding Sandakan and Australian prisoners of war held by the Japanese, and also the Death Marches carried out. Never once have I come across any mention of the further Australian action concerning our landing on Sandakan in Sept/Oct 1945.
The details of the following story are based on an actual happening, and have never before been related. It is a tale of tragedy at sea, and of the heroism displayed by men thrown together in a common lot by the fortunes of war. The setting is in the "Graveyard of the Atlantic", that frigid gray expanse of the North Atlantic in the land of the midnight sun, a hundred miles south of the polar ice packs.
It was November of 1968. We were in an area we called the Oregon Trail. Not sure where it was other than it was in II Corps. It was mountainous terrain -- not like the dimples sometimes called mountains in the Eastern U.S. Steep slopes, high cliffs, waterfalls, few valleys but many brush-filled ravines. More like the mountains of the Pacific Northwest -- different vegetation of course.
During May 1942, I was a lieutenant assigned as Executive and Engineer Officer of the USS PC-469 at the George Lawley Shipyard in Neponset, Massachusetts. Three other officers were assigned - Lieutenant Commander Richard Morell as the Commanding Officer with Lieutenant (junior grade) Kenneth Potts and Ensign Richard Young as watch officers. Upon arrival, I became very familiar with the PC design since the ship was in the throes of final outfitting and on the building ways - the keel having been laid on 22 October 1941.
As a member of the 377th Combat Security Police at Tan Son Nhut, Viet Nam, during Tet 1968, I worked a bunker several towers down from the 051 Bunker at Gate 051. Tan Son Nhut gates were numbered, 051, 055, 057, etceteras. It's Tet '68, and my combat experience was zip, and Charlie wanted to kick-ass right into my bunker.
Many stories of World War II combat missions in B-17s over Europe have been written. Rarely did any of these tell much about the planning, briefing, organization of the formations, form up and what happened after the planes returned to their bases. This mission was chosen to document for the casual readers to profile a typical combat mission in those days.
Our class went on draft leave at Christmas 1939, then to Pompey barracks, HMS Victory in Queen Street. We messed in the barracks but slept at Aggie Weston's in Commercial Rd. Aggies was two buildings separated by a side street but joined on the second or third floor by an enclosed bridge. We used to cross that bridge to our individual cabins. A petty officer and leading seaman were in charge of us.
1775 January. - At the precise period when my medical studies and education are completed, under the patronage of Dr. Abner Hersey of Barnstable, and I am contemplating the commencement of a new career in life, I find our country about to be involved in all the horrors of a civil war. A series of arbitrary and oppressive measures, on the part of the mother-country, has long been advancing to that awful crisis, when an appeal to the power of the sword becomes inevitable.
March 22, 1952. I was just 22 years old. Dawn found me on the flight deck of the USS Valley Forge in the Sea of Japan, warming up my Skyraider. As a pilot in Fighter Squadron 194, the "Yellow Devils," I was the standby in case one of the 8 planes scheduled for the morning's flight became inoperative.
The Coast Guard manned and operated about seventy of these rather unusual ships during World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans - they were unusual in that they had two firerooms generating steam for two large triple-expansion steam engines with all machinery, such a force-draft blowers, anchor engines and steering engines, all of them being single cylinder steam engines - the only variation was the two turbine-driven generators furnishing electric power for ships utilities!! The ships were twin screw with twin rudders making them extremely easy to handle provided you allowed for the high bow, the low stern and the vagaries of the wind.
One night in late '67 at Marine Quang Tri Forward, I was assigned to generator watch. It is very boring to watch a 500kw Buddha generator generate. We had to keep one generator on-line, because the air strip was finished; and we might need the airfield lighting in an emergency. To ease the boredom, I had been watching a praying mantis approach some unremembered insect so slowly. The motion was almost imperceptible.
Front, Aug. 9, 1918
Dear Uncle Clem:
I know you must be waiting anxiously for a letter from me and wondering why I have not written before. Ever since July 15, the day of Clem's death, and the opening of the German offensive which we turned into defeat, we have been on the go night and day, and a good share of the time have been used as infantry.
USS Oregon, 4 July 1898
Sir - I have the honor to report that at 9.30 AM yesterday the Spanish fleet was discovered standing out of the harbor of Santiago de Cuba. They turned to the westward and opened fire, to which our ships replied vigorously. For a short time there was almost continuous flight of projectiles over this ship, but when our line was fairly engaged and the Iowa had made a swift advance, as if to ram or close, the enemy's fire became defective in train as well as range. The ship was only struck three times, and at least two of them were by fragments of shells. We had no casualties.
Bell Plains, Va.
Flying a bombing mission out of Foggia, Italy, off Tortorella US Army Air Field in Italy, during W.W. II, our B-17 caught one hell of a lot of flack. All four engines were still running, but ALL flight instruments failed. We had no airspeed indicator. Since we were returning from the bombing mission in formation, we didn't really need flight instruments except for the approach and landing.
1799: Napoleon Bonaparte captures Jaffa, Palestine.
1913: The Balkan allies take Adrianople.
1918: On the Western Front, the Germans take the French towns Noyon, Roye and Lihons.
1941: Italy attacks the British fleet at Suda Bay, Crete, using detachable warheads to sink a British cruiser. This was the first time manned torpedoes had been employed in naval warfare, adding a new weapon to the world's navies' arsenals.
1942: The Germans begin sending Jews to Auschwitz in Poland.
1953: The Nevada complex, consisting of combat outposts Carson, Reno and Vegas, came under heavy attack. The enemy initially seized Vegas and Reno, but the Marines recaptured these outposts and defeated repeated enemy attempts to recapture the ground.
1975: The city of Hue, in northernmost South Vietnam, falls to the North Vietnamese.