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"Message in a barnacle-coated bottle"
Message in a bottle

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I'll bet you are surprised to hear from me. It isn't often one hears from a ship and especially after so many years, but I'm not just a ship to you, I'm the old Salt Lake City.

First of all I'm sorry that I can't attend the reunion back there in the States, but knowing you are having one makes me joyous, and your thoughts are coming on strong.

Please excuse the handwriting, but I'm doing the best I can, and what little I know I learned from you when you wrote letters home. I remember those days well. Oh yes, I can remember, think and feel also. Many a seaman through history has said ships have souls and others say not, but I'll tell you the truth, we do. We always act and look different when someone cares for us and loves us.

Sometimes you didn't show it, and there were times when I was cursed, but I knew deep down you didn't mean it because I knew the reason you cursed. I cursed myself, sometimes when the going got tough. I felt the sadness in your heart and I saw that tear in your eye as we parted, and my heart felt sorrowful too. Naturally we feel this way because we shared a large and dramatic portion of our lives together, and that makes a bond between us.

Did you know I also was as happy as you when we made Pearl Harbor or the Golden Gate? Yes, we sure did love to get stateside for a while.

I worried about you too when you were making liberties. Yes, just like a mother hen, I was glad to see you come sobbing back aboard and safe and sound in your bunks.

The second World War years were the most exciting years of my life. Remember how you nursed me and guided me back to Pearl Harbor after the Battle of Cape Esperance? Wow! Wasn't that a night! I was terribly injured from that torpedo and fire, and so many of our buddies died as well as others being wounded. I can say now I didn't think I'd make it, but with your help and courage we came through. I sure was a sight when we sailed into Pearl Harbor months later. My best friends didn't even know who I was, but don't laugh, you looked like a lot of bums too wearing the non-regulation clothing that was given to you by the merchant marine, and those beards of yours - were they ever long! But something was nice about it because it was a break from the routine. But that soon ended when we pulled up to the pier and yardmen were there to greet us as well as the Navy, all in parade dress. A large band struck up "Anchors Aweigh" as our colors flew gracefully in the Hawaiian sky. You looked like a lot of civilians as you stood at attention. We heard the National Anthem as well as the "Stars and Stripes Forever" and I choked up inside and was proud. I also thought of those we had to leave behind, who paid so dearly and weren't there to share that inspiring moment.

We had already plenty behind us, such as the Marshall-Gilbert Raids (Wotje); Wake & Marcus Island Raid; Guadalcanal-Tulagi Landings; Battle of Cape Esperance; Battle of Komandorski Island; Occupation of Attu; Gilbert Islands Operation; Marshall Islands Operation; Palau, Yap, Ulithi and Woleai Raids; Leyte Operation, Luzon Attacks; Battle of Leyte Gulf (Battle off Samar); Assault and Capture of Iwo Jima; Assault and Occupation of Okinawa Gunto

Yes, I could reminisce for days with you, but you know it all well, and I was as joyful as you when those four years of war ended.

I was born in the United States of America, and I was proud to be part of the greatest armada that man ever placed upon the seas- the U.S. Navy. I was born for fighting to protect that which you love and for other duties also. So many called the workhorse of the Pacific, but regardless of that, most of my days with you were pleasant and peaceful. I was also proud to have you as my crew.

I was successful in my missions, but not without your help, and I protected you from the cold and storm and from the enemy the best I could, and protected you while you slept.

I experienced just about everything a ship could. My log bears the evidence, I went through severe storms and rough seas, collided with whales, was shaken by earthquake and tidal waves, strafed by planes, ripped by shore batteries, torpedoed in war and gutted by fire. I survived one of man's most destructive weapons - the Atomic Bomb - during a test in the Marshall Islands. I'm glad you weren't aboard. Was that ever an explosion! I pray it will never be used again as we all know what war is.

After the war you soon went home to your families and friends. But I had no one to go to and I was left alone, because all I had in the world was you, my crew.

It wasn't long before I came to my Journey's end and it came sooner than I wanted it to because life was rather full for me and exciting. I guess none of us are ever ready to go.

I saw many fine men and great ships go into that mysterious beyond, and it was now my turn. The Military prepared and towed me out to sea to my final resting place. I felt so worn and obsolete, and yet I was only 19 years old. I realized that more than ever how important all of you were to me in the past, for no one was there to help me protect myself or guide my rudder. Grief was now my only companion as I looked toward the southern sky where we all shared so much together. I wouldn't have wanted you to see me like this as I floated so helplessly. My decks and compartments where you once lived, worked and fought were now a void. The silence was almost more than I could bear.

To most of the Armed Forces, that day was only routine target practice, but to me it was the last curtain call and a dramatic end to a true life story of men and a ship that gave a fine performance, if I do say so myself, at a period outstanding in American History. Very few ships can boast such a record as ours.

I now tried to be as courageous as we all were in the past as I saw the death blows were upon me. They struck their mark well again and again, and I cried out in a convulsion of pain, but not a living man heard my voice. The birds floating on the sea breeze heard it. The waves caressing my wounded sides heard it, and my voice echoed like a thunderclap through the clouds, and at the same moment the spirits of our beloved dead shipmates heard it.

Sea water began rushing into my lungs and was swiftly replacing my precious air. Just a I thought I was about to breathe me last, I heard beautiful notes from a trumpeting bugle and then, - as if in a dream - all of our old shipmates that we thought we left behind began to assemble on my decks, including those who had joined their ranks since. It was than I knew that we were no more blest than the dead for having survived. I knew also for the first time I was catching up to them and was it I who was left for another day? Was I delirious? Was I having a dream? If it were a dream I did not want to awaken, and yet it was like an awakening because there they all were; officers, sailors and marines, as a lonely parting suddenly became a joyous reunion with those old comrades gathering aboard me. I never saw so many captains on bridge at one time!

Familiar words of "Fall in rank" were heard, and the command; "Attention" and they snapped to with pomp and vigor. They never looked better standing there in navy blue and khaki.

Several others made their way across my deck carrying a hug wreath, and they laid it carefully on my well deck and on it was an inscription, "Honor and Devotion to our old Swayback" written in flowers from all over America.

The roll was then called and one by one they answered up loud and clear. It was good to hear their names and voices again. "All present and accounted for" was the word passed and all of them saluted as the most glorious colors I had ever seen was hoisted to my mainmast. The red stripes were like patterns of crimson taken from a South Sea sunset. The white, as if it were cut from the garments of angels, and the starts the brightest of Heaven placed neatly in an ultramarine blue. The Chaplain then gave an eulogy and preparations were made to get underway. The anchor was lifted from my heart as I felt familiar hands take hold of my wheel. And now the finest crew that I could ever choose or hope to know sailed me, gently and gracefully on my final voyage and on a course that led us to the harbor of eternal Peace.

A fond farewell for now, my comrades and I take the liberty to speak for your old pals too that are here with me when I say "God Bless all of you and God's speed in your endeavors and continue to defend your flag and country, right or even if you believe in error".

Please don't try to answer this letter because there are no mail calls here, better still, your thoughts and prayers come in loud and clear. So in the years to come, when you feel you are at the end of your voyage in this troubled but beautiful world, just whisper a prayer and we'll all be there. So until another day "Anchors Aweigh, my boys."

I remain forever your old Swayback Maru (USS Salt Lake City)

Author Unknown
It has been said that this was written about the USS PENSACOLA. Some of the content has been changed to fit the history of the USS SLC CA25. Any comments, please contact Sandy Eskew


Operation Crossroads Index

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History of the USS SLC during "Operation Crossroads" 1946
Cruiser's Brave Stand
Great Ship, by Dan Valentine, SLC, UT.
Valiant "Swayback" Nears Final Rest
Amazing Pictures of the Atomic Testing at Operation Crossroads
Meeting the Bomb at Close Quarters by Matin Zuberi, JNU
Navy to Sink Proud Old Cruiser
Bikini 'Guinea Pig' Comes to Sound
Boy Spy: Private Photos of the SLC after Bikini NEW 02-24-11
Famed Cruiser's Last Day at Sea...May 25th, 1948
SLC Goes to her Watery Grave
Able-Baker Atomic Bomb Test Log for the USS SLC
SLC Veterans that went to Operation Crossroads
Elegy for "Old Swayback" by Donald C. Trenary, Lt.
Radioactivity Lingers Longer in Water Blast, 1948
Where is the SLC now?
"My Sweetheart Cries in the Night"



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