from Wallace Nolin
From: Wallace Nolin - Wallyn71@aol.com
Thanks for getting back so quickly. There are so many other sites where the Rutledge is ID'd as originally built as the SS Exeter, that I assumed you knew that. When reread your site, I realized it is not mentioned.
The Exeter was certainly not a luxury liner in the Lusitania, etc. types of ships. She was a passenger/cargo ship that worked the Mediterranean circuit from New York. It was on one of those that my family took that trip, my second on such a ship. She was a single class, quite a contrast to most of her genre in her day,and as an 9 year old kid, I drove my parents crazy because I wandered all over the ship, even down to the crew quarters and up to the bridge, down to the engine room., etc. She was one of the Original Four Aces of the American Export Line along with the Excaliber which was converted as the USS Joseph Hewes (AP-50) and was in the same convoy as the Rutledge to North Africa and was sunk within a day of the sinking of the Rutledge, the Excambion, which was converted to the USS John Penn (AP-51) and sailed in the above convoy to North Africa and survived that campaign eventually being sunk in the Pacific theater. The fourth of the Four Aces was the Exochorda which was converted to the USS Harry Lee and was the only one of the four to survive the war. She continued for several years ending up with a Turkish line with the name Tarsus surviving until she was destroyed in a fire from the collision of two other ships that drifted into her on December 14, 1960.
None of the above should be printed as is, for I'm doing it from memory rather than consulting my notes. But, you can see I have an interest in the Original Four Aces.
I'll look through my things to see if I can find any pictures of my family on that voyage. I have several pictures of the Exeter which I can send and when they were all four sailing commercially, they were identical. It's been fun for me to find pictures of the Exeter, then compare them to those of the Rutledge just to see what they did with her as a troop ship. I even have two pictures from newspapers showing the process of her sinking.
More late. Please share current things with me that may not be on your website.
from Shirley Diethelm
From: "Shirley Diethelm" email@example.com
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He is now 90, and involved in researching Laughlin family History. He and his wife live in Santa Rosa Ca.
I wrote Shirley asking for additional info on her Uncles memories of the sinking and a photo, The following is Shirleys Reply
From: "Shirley Diethelm" firstname.lastname@example.org
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"We went by train from Camp Pendleton to Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia. (The men called this 'Camp Pickett') There, we walked up the gangplank to our Transport Ship, the Rutledge, which was one of a convoy of about 19 Transports. The Rutledge was a very old ship. The motors stopped four times on the way over, leaving the ship completely in the dark. It was a very peculiar feeling. The sounds that the ship made were unbelievable. It moaned and groaned as it rode the waves up and down, all in complete darkness, while the ship's crew worked to repair the motors. Then, when its motors were working again, the ship had to try to catch up with the rest of the Convoy. I felt helpless during those times when our ship was out in mid ocean, alone, in complete darkness, with its motors silent.
The French Morocco & North African Campaign: On the morning of November 8, 1942, we finally arrived near the stretch of beach close to Fedala, Africa where we were scheduled to land. This was supposed to be a surprise attack. The Navy Battle Wagons were circling around farther out, and coming in closer, between our Army Transports, to protect them. The Transport Ships were getting as close as they could to the beach, and they finally anchored a mile off shore. Everyone was assigned to a certain assault boat. (The assault boats were made so that when they could go no closer to the land, the front end could be dropped down to allow its 20 or more soldiers to run off the boat into the ocean water, on their way to the beach.) The assault boats were to attack in waves. I was to be in the leading assault boat as "Second in Command" in the first wave. The others were assigned as follows: Corporal Hart 1st wave, boat 3; 1st Lt. Robert M. Boddy 'Boat Leader'1st wave, boat 5. In the 1st wave, boat 7 were: Sgt. Emery Olmstead; and Sgt Russell Winner. Sgt. George Butrim BLT 2nd wave, boat 7; and Capt. Parr, C.O., 2nd wave, boat 9. These names are all that I now can remember.
Since this was to be an invasion, I was wearing over my uniform: two or more bandoliers (broad straps of ammunition) over my shoulders, a special war belt with hooks holding 'my bayonet, a canteen full of water, and 2 hand grenades'. I carried my rifle in my hand and my C-rations in my pocket. All of us in the Infantry were getting ready to go over the side of the Rutledge and go down the nets, into the assault boats. (Heavy nets Were thrown over and down the sides of the ships, instead of ladders, to facilitate the quick loading of the assault boats.) At that same time an enemy torpedo hit the engine room of our ship, the Rutledge. Things were really in a mess then. It was every man to go down the nets into whatever assault boat he could get into. As soon as one boat was filled, it moved away as fast as possible, so another boat could take its place.
Although I had been assigned to the leading assault boat in the 1st wave, I am not sure what boat I got into! But whatever boat it was, it somehow managed to be the first boat to reach the beach. Also, in the same boat were Sgt. Butrim and Capt. Parr. Three other of our Transports were sunk along with the Rutledge. Whether or not their soldiers made it to shore I do not know.
(We all surely did hate to see the Rutledge sink, because many of our personal belongings were on it. When we first boarded the Rutledge we were given the chance to put our valuables in their safe, and receive a receipt for them. Those that did, were paid for their lost items, but those that did not, lost everything left on board and were not reimbursed. I was one of them!)
After the four Transports were sunk, one of our Battle Wagons moved in closer to the beach. Not far from us, on the other side, was a French Battle Wagon trying to get out of the harbor into the open sea. This French Battle Wagon was a very special ship, and highly prized by our enemy. Another one of our Battle Wagons, and the French Battle Wagon were engaged in an exchange of shells. The shells were flying back and forth just over our heads while we were in the assault boats. The shells were so close they rippled the water and swished the air around us as they rushed by. (It took four of our shells to cripple the French Battle Wagon. Our first shell missed, but the second shell landed just in front of it. The next two were on target, and the French Battle Wagon was knocked out of commission.)
We had a front seat for all of this, as it happened while we were going toward shore. It was later that we heard that three of our sailors were killed in the engine room of our old ship. We also lost one of our soldiers while we were still in the assault boats. Things were happening fast, so no one saw this, but we all believe that one soldier was knocked out of the boat by one of the big shells going by. He was at the very rear of his boat. I had already affixed my bayonet to my rifle when one shell came so close that I ducked my head, almost sticking my own bayonet in my throat."
William H. Laughlin,
William's story goes on but this part is what I thought you might be interested in. It is a wonderful that you and others are writing about your experiences in World War 2. My uncle's picture will be sent in another email to follow.
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