Northern Solomons - Bougainville - Bismarck Archipelago
Marianas - Western Caroline Islands - two Jima - Okinawa
Jan. 11, 2002
NOW HEAR THIS!
I am writing this between Christmas and New Year's so I certainly hope you all had a joyous Christmas and looking forward to a great New Year. I feel the term "great" at our age should refer to a year of reasonably good health!
Believe it or not, but a couple of "plankowning" shipmates came forth since my last letter. We are most fortunate that somehow old shipmates manage to locate us; they are:
Nathan Goren 6319 Bay Club Dr. Apt. 2 Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308 Max Hartwell 1885 West Whipple Show Low, AZ 85901
Nate (formerly Gornstein aboard ship) was a soundman while Max was a watertender; Nate was transferred at Pearl Harbor after our overhaul while Max left the ship from Ominato Bay for separation. It's great to have two more shipmates aboard!
While two shipmates were found, we lost another good one - Jim Slife passed away in July, 2001, after a long illness. Jim and his wife, Margaret, attended several of our reunions.
Although small in number, there was no lack of spirit, fun and fellowship at our mini-reunion on Cape Cod this past November. Those in attendance were:
Paul Beyer Christine and Joe DeSisto Bruno Cantamessa Irene and Bill DeMarco Ena and John Glencross Irene and Roland Desmaris Clara and Pat Ferguson
Again the highlight of the reunion was the outstanding brunch that Joe and Christine DeSisto and their family provided us on Saturday morning; if anyone went hungry, it was strictly their fault as the food overflowed and was very delicious. These shipmates are already talking about a mini-reunion next year and I sure hope those of you in that area will make ever effort to attend. "This was my first experi- ence on cape; Cod and it is a beautiful area plus the pleasure of being with old shipmates.
On the last page of this letter I have included a picture of the
seven of us taken in front of the DeSisto's summer home on the Cape.
Just in case you can't recognize us, they are:
A few months ago I purchased a book titled, "San Diego's Navy", authored by Bruce Linder. Basically, it is about the history of the Navy in San Diego and the part San Diego played in the history of the Navy in that area. Anyway, here is a quote from this book:
"Remaining on the Pacific coast was a polygot group of reserves loosely organized into Patrol Force, Pacific Fleet, commanded by Rear Adm. William Fullam, whose flag was flown from the battleship OREGON. Fullam's few ships, such as gunboats YORKTOWN, ANNAPOLIS and VICKSBURG, new classes of submarine chasers, and old supply ships armed as auxiliary cruisers, were concentrated along the Mexican west coast."
Needless to say, our mighty ship was named after the above Admiral! Max Hartwell wrote me a letter in which he provided the following memory; he also included a small photo but it is just too small to really show up in this letter:
"I don't know if you remember, but I was the sax player and Guy Fiorentino was the drummer. We sometimes had other musicians join us when we went ashore for our beer parties (2 beers - remember?). We made Guy's drums by hand with what ever we could find. I remember we made the cymbals from five inch power cans.
We never could get the Navy to get instruments for us. I did teach Bob Marshallsea to play the sax on the FULLAM and he went on to become a professional musician. Once when I was in Boston on business we got together in the Old Howard's Bar and drank all night long. They kept the bar open for us because we hadn't seen each other for so many years! Of course, we also fought WWII over again."
In my next letter I plan to include an up-to-date roster as there have been many changes since the last one. Once again if you have any idea as to where any old shipmates whom we have not been able to locate live, please let me know.
Again, here's wishing the best in '02,
Photo #1 Top: Left to right
Front: Glencross & Beyer
Center: Ferguson & DeSisto
Rear:- Desmaris, Cantamessa, & DeMarco
A couple of months ago I purchased a paper-back book titled,
"Riding on Luck - the Saga of the USS LANG (DD399)." The
author is Rex A. Knight and the book was originally published
in 1998. ISBN 1-55571-551-6.|
Since many of our shipsmates had served on the USS O'BRIEN prior to the FULLAM, I thought You would be Interested in the part of the book I copied and included in this letter.
To my knowledge we have three O'BRIEN sailors on our current roster: they are Joe Cherniak, Rich Fernandez, and Garrett Lynch. If there are any others, let me know.
The book itself is a complete history of the LANG from its commissioning in 1939 to its decommissioning in 1946. The author is the son of one of the LANG'S crew.
Just occurred to me but think Arch Kellems also served on the OBIE. Am I right, Arch?
Lang had so far spent 45 straight days at sea and served with Wasp since 27 March. But on 4 September Lang finally departed the carrier to proceed to Noumea for a needed rest. As she departed the carrier's side the destroyer O'Brien (DD-415) arrived to fill her vacancy in the screen.
Lang's trip to Noumea was cautious but unhampered. Once there, the crew spent a couple of days in port but the stay was disappointingly short. New orders sent the destroyer on a series of missions escorting fleet oilers from various Australian ports to rendezvous with task forces in the open sea and also escorting between the island ports of New Hebrides and New Caledonea. These rather unremarkable duties were to consume the rest of the month.
It was during this time, however, the men of Lang again received very distressing news. On 20 September a message was received that Wasp, the ship that had so affected their own past, had been sunk by some well placed torpedoes from an enemy submarine. In an additional twist of fate, Wasp's gunnery officer, Lieutenant Commander George Knuepfer, whose gallant leadership was credited with helping to save many of the carrier crews' lives, had previously served as Lang's executive officer while under the command of Lieutenant Commander Waters. But what was even more haunting to Lang's crew was news that in the same attack the destroyer O'Brien, their own replacement, had also suffered a serious torpedo hit.
Three days later Lang departed Brisbane, Australia, on her last of the series of escort missions. This time she escorted the two. U.S. submarines S-37 and S-41 to Noumea, whereupon her arrival she met the torpedo damaged O'Brien taking on repairs.
For the next several days Lang was destine to remain in port. But on 10 October she departed Noumea as escort for the fleet oiler Cimarron (AO-22) and the partially repaired O'Brien. The group was to proceed to Suva, Fiji Islands, and then on to Pearl Harbor, where O'Brien would receive a full structural overhaul.
The journey to Suva was accomplished without incident, all three ships arriving safely in port on the 13th. After an additional three days layover, the group recommenced the voyage toward Pearl. But O'Brien was in trouble.
Even as the Ships were departing Suva, O'Brien was expenencing considerable problems with leakage. With each nautical mile the leakage for O'Brien became increasingly worse. Under such conditions, it easily became evident that the cripple destroyer would not reach her intended destination without further repairs to her hull. It was decided that the ships should change course for the port of Pago Pago, Tutuila Island. In the meantime, the crew of 0'Brien began tossing all loose gear overboard, lightening their ship's weight in the attempt to keep her afloat.
Still hoping to reach port, O'Brien's crew continued to nurse their crippled ship along. They had brought her 3,000 miles from where she had first received her wound, and did not intend to give her up now. But, at 6:00 A.M. on 19 October, just off Samoa the destroyer suddenly hesitated with a jerk, her keel snapping and her hull beginning to break up near her quarterdeck.
A half-hour later her disheartened crew -- with the exception of a salvage party -- began to abandon ship. In orderly fashion, her crew made their way to waiting boats for transport to Cimarron. Within another half-hour the salvage party, they too unable to do anything more for the dying ship, were also removed from the vessel. And soon all members of O'Brien crew were safely aboard Cimarron, having suffered no casualties. Obviously, the death of a ship was an experience few sailors could ever forget. From Cimarron and Lang sailors watched and listened as O'Brien began to shudder and vibrate with a sickening noise. Her metal groaned and moaned and cried out as her seams split and her structuring began to pull apart. The crews stood helplessly in their observation as the destroyer quickly began to settle amidship, her bow and fantail simultaneously rising into the air to form a "V" on her way down. By 8:00 A.M. it was all over; O'Brien, her final exhale of air consumed in a gurgle, disappeared below a pool of debris cluttered foam.
Throughout the sad episode various Lang crew could hardly help but ponder O'Brien's fate, and contemplate just how close they had been from their own brush with disaster. How fortunate Lang had been; how unlucky O'Brien. Of all the time Lang had spent with Wasp, her likely death had been separated from her by only two weeks. Had not fate intervened on their behalf, it likely would have been their own destroyer they just witnessed slide beneath the sea.
With O'Brien gone, Lang, and Cimarron recommenced a course to Pearl Harbor, where they safely arrived five days later. This was Lang's first visit back at Pearl since the attack, yet evidence of that disastrous day still remained for the crew to view. Though much of the damage had been repaired and most of those ships severely damaged or sunk during the attack had since been resurrected to sail again, there still remained the sunken capsized hulls of Utah (BB-31) and Oklahoma (BB-37). And, of course, there lay Arizona, her flag still waving proudly, wherein her sunken hull were entombed 1,103 of her crew. These sad sights, added to their recent experience with O'Brien, served to reinforce the crew's desire to defeat the enemy. And, obviously, Captain Wilfong appreciated his crew's enhanced warrior spirit, knowing such spirit was to be as much a weapon as was any gun in his destroyer's arsenal.
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