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How it all began
By John E. Coie, Jr., Commander USNR (Ret.)

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Now that I have decided to write down all my memories, I have to decide where to begin. Where better than the beginning. Whenever anyone asks me how I happened to get into the navy I have had a story to tell.

In June of 1940 I had just graduated from San Bernardino Valley Junior College (CA.). While I was there I was very active in journalism and had been editor of the college paper. In the capacity of editor I had written several editorials saying that it looked as though war was coming closer and that a draft was very much a possibility. I was advising all men students to look for some place where they could improve their military potential by some form of training.

I took my own advice and signed up for training in a civil air patrol group. I was on my way to my final acceptance interview when my mother found out my plans. She threw a fit. She hated the idea of any kind of flying and did not want me to have any part of it.

Since I was 21 years old and I felt I should not be treated as a child, I was very upset. But I still did not want to hurt my mother’s feelings. I had received a letter that day from the Navy saying that their V-7 Officer’s Training Program had just opened to accept Junior College graduates as well as College graduates. To appease my feelings about my mother’s reaction I picked up the letter and said “Okay then, I will go into the Navy”. She said “Anything but airplanes”.

The letter said I would need two letters of recommendation and the transcript of my grades from high school and college. It also said that the nearest place where I could enter my application was the campus of UCLA, which was fifty miles away.

Still very upset because my plans had to be changed, I went to my high school early the next day and saw the principal. Since I had also been the editor of the high school paper he knew me quite well. He wrote a fine recommendation and had the school secretary prepare my high school transcript.

I then went to the Junior College to see the president. As the former college paper editor I had also gotten to know him. He too wrote a good recommendation and provided me with my college transcript. Armed with my letters and background material I was on my way to Los Angeles and UCLA before noon.

At UCLA I went through a series of interviews and told my life story to each interviewer. They all seemed favorably impressed, especially when I mentioned that I had earned my Eagle Scout badge. As a result, the interview write-ups turned out to be very good.

My last stop was for my physical exam. I was sailing through the physical in good form until the last step which was the eye exam. When the nurse handed my file to the doctor who was to examine my eyes, I heard her say “this looks like a good one”.

When I read the eye chart my right eye was 20/20 but my left eye was below the required level. It took 20/20 in each eye to pass. I had the feeling the doctor hated to fail me. He asked if I had ever had any eye trouble and I said none that I knew of. So he told me to rest my eyes and come back in an hour or so and try again.

When I returned the doctor was busy. He told me to sit in a chair that was across the room and he would be with me later. It just happened that the chair was right under the eye chart. The critical line I was to read was as follows: A-E-L-T-Y-P-H-E-A-L-T-I engraved it so deeply in my memory that I have never forgotten it.

When I was called for the re-testing I only had to test my left eye because they already had a good reading on the right one. The doctor was very surprised and pleased when I read off the chart perfectly and received a 20/20 in both eyes. I was finally accepted in the V-7 program. I still believe that the doctor knew what I was going to do when he had me take the chair he offered, but I will never know for sure.

My next move was to report to Los Angeles to board a train for New York. This train had five Pullman cars filled with V-7 trainees. One of the men had been chosen to be in charge of the five cars. I could not believe it but I was named to be in charge of one of the cars. In my car were mostly men who had graduated from college. Some of them even had ROTC training. One of the men in my car was a close pal of mine from high school who had graduated from UCLA. My interviews really must have been something.

We all managed to stay together until we reached New York. This was my first time there and I was properly impressed. We were all herded onto various ships anchored in the Hudson River. I was sent to the heavy cruiser USS WICHITA along with two friends who had graduated from high school with me. There were 100 of us on the WICHITA.

All the ships in our training group headed out of New York harbor for Norfolk, Virginia. My naval career almost ended the first night out of New York. The sea was very, very rough. About 50 of us were gathered on the fantail of the WICHITA trying to keep our spirits up and our dinner down. Although I thought I had planted my feet firmly in what I thought was good seaman style to meet the roll of the ship, I lost my footing when I was bumped and went sliding across the deck. I caught the base of the catapult on the fantail with my foot just in time to keep from going over the side. I was so frightened I forgot all about being seasick and, in fact, I have never been seasick since.

We weathered the one month cruise and returned to New York. There were several choices where we could take the next phase of our training. One was in New York aboard the WWI battleship USS ILLINOIS (later named the USS PRAIRIE STATE). Another place was Notre Dame University and another was Northwestern University. The three of us who had gone to high school together all decided we would like Northwestern. We were sent home and told our training class at Northwestern would start in December. It was to be the second class at Northwestern.

The classes were hard but they had to cram a lot of information into us in a very short time. In the end we felt confident that we could hold up our end.

It was not all work at Northwestern though. For instance, one night one of the sororities held a dance and invited the Midshipmen. During the evening I noticed a young lady that I thought was the prettiest one there. I finally got up nerve enough to cut in on her partner. I managed to dance with her several other times. She was my date when we had the final Class Dinner, and I invited her to the graduation when we received our commissions as Ensigns.

After leaving Chicago we continued to correspond and later I invited her to visit me and my family when my ship came to Long Beach for rest and recreation. This led to things that will be covered in a later memory.

I had a choice of duties when I left the Midshipman School. I chose heavy cruisers because that was the type of ship I had spent my one month cruise on. I received my orders to report to the USS SALT LAKE CITY in April 1941. The ship was in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. My Navy career was really about to start.


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“A Most Enjoyable Cruise”

By entering the Naval Service when I did, in August 1940, I had an opportunity to see the peace time Navy as it was prior to WWII. The peace time Navy after WWII never reached the fine point of pomp and ceremony or the glamorous feelings of the earlier period.

There were some difficulties of course. When I went aboard my first ship as a newly commissioned Ensign, the USS SALT LAKE CITY, I found that I was of a strange breed. I was a “Naval Reserve” officer. I was one of five such on a ship carrying 35 officers. The other 30 were all exalted Naval Academy graduates. They made no bones about pointing out the difference between the two types.

I was assigned quarters in what was a two man room. There were only two bunks and they were both occupied. I was given a cot which I could set up on the floor of the cabin. Once my cot was up there was no further room to move about. It was made very clear to me that I could not put up my cot until both my room-mates were in bed. I had to have the cot folded up and out of the way early enough in the morning so the high and mighties could comfortably get up.

I could have argued, but both of the other Ensigns were over 6’ 2” and outweighed me by at least thirty pounds. Actually too, I could not think of any other way it could be worked out.

One of these men had been the stroke on the Navy eight-oar crew and the other was a former football player. ball-red-02 Deceased Lyle D. Ramsey, Lt. Comdr., the oarsman, had also graduated second in his class and had been a five-striper, which was the Academy leading midshipman. He was the most resentful of my ninety-day training background.

Fuzzy Knight,[Fraiser S. Knight, Lt. (jg)] the other room-mate was a big, friendly guy who could have cared less that I was a reserve. I was very sorry some time later to learn that he had transferred from the SLC to submarine duty, and that his sub was lost at sea during the war.

All in all, I spent a very uncomfortable two months until the other space opened up and I had a normal bunk. My association with Lyle Ramsey improved later. Lyle was practically a genius and he was our leading fire control man.

My stock went up when I helped earn an “E” for excellence for my turret, Turret Two. We accomplished this because I was using a system that Lyle had designed. He had developed a board with dials that was like a forerunner for a computer. By using this board, after being trained by Lyle, I was able to work out our local control firing problem so well that we had a very high score in our firing exercise. This was the measure that determined the qualification for the turret “E”. These awards were discontinued after the war started.

In June of 1941 we steamed out of Pearl Harbor on our first trip to foreign shores. We made a call at Noumea, New Caledonia and then went on to Brisbane, Australia. The Aussies were already engaged in the war and most of the younger men had been sent off to the various fronts. Australia was hoping that soon the USA would be in the war helping them as well.

Our greeting in Brisbane was more than we could ever have hoped for, especially for the sailors. Everywhere they went in the streets of Brisbane; young girls would stop them and ask for their autograph. They would make it very clear that they would just love to have a date with an American sailor. Now these were girls from the nicest families and it was all a great surprise to the men. As on sailor said, “It is perpetual smorgasbord”. It was like letting a bunch of rabbits loose in a cabbage patch.

Of course the officers found things pretty nice too, even though we had to show a little more restraint. But we were partied, wined and dined very, very well.

The departure from Brisbane met with mixed feelings. We were all sorry to leave the fun and games, but as one sailor said, “I have had liberty every day for a week and I haven’t slept for at least 72 hours. I need to get to sea to get a rest.”

When we were clear of the Moreton River and into the Coral Sea we learned from our radiomen that we were receiving calls from Sidney, Australia asking us to visit their city. They had all sorts of welcoming plans ready for us. We were all eager to go, but it was not to be.

Our captain, ball-red-02 Deceased Captain Ellis M. Zacharias, had spent a good deal of time in Naval Intelligence and he wanted to see at first hand some of the islands in the area. He felt that if any type of war occurred, those islands would figure prominently in the picture. How right he turned out to be.

Our first stop was Port Moresby, New Guinea. It was there I saw my first aborigine natives. All the officers had their pictures taken with the half-naked girls and the gruesome looking men.

One feature all the men had in common was a very bushy head of hair that practically stood straight up. Across the top of their very black hair was a level of bleached white. We learned that his was caused by the lye they used to kill the fleas.

We watched while they held a dance that, we were told, would go on for hours until the dancers began to drop from exhaustion. Someone said the dance was to celebrate some act of cannibalism. We never knew for sure, but these natives were not far removed from the cannibalistic state.

In the hotel where we had a few drinks of good Australian beer, each officer left a shilling as a tip for the native waiter. This shilling was worth something less that a quarter. The owner of the hotel hurried over and made us take back the tips. He said it had taken him months to train the boys working for him and with the tips we had left they would have as much as they could earn in a year. They would head back into the bush and he would have to train an entire new crew.

Our next port was Rabaul, New Britain. To further prove Captain Zacharias right, Rabaul, after the Japanese occupied it, became their principal Naval Base in the island area for the next two years or more.

Our visit there was strictly peace time. The island was controlled by New Zealand and the New Zealand troops were our guides. Again we learned about the natives and the life on New Britain. Once when we were hiking on a trail near the town, we came upon a stake in the ground with a human skull atop it. Our guide told us it was time to turn around because the trail maker was there to tell us that it was for bidden for us to proceed further. Needless to say, we did not argue.

After leaving Rabaul, we headed back to Pearl Harbor, steaming through some of the islands that Amelia Earhart must have passed over in her ill-fated around the world flight attempt.

We had one other interesting experience. We reached a point where the International Date Line crossed the Equator. We made a point of going through this exact spot. I wish that I had the entry that the officer of the deck entered into the ship’s log to honor this event. To paraphrase the entry as best I can remember it, it said: “It is neither today nor tomorrow. We are neither North nor South, East or West. We have just passed through a point where all these things meet.” He was much more clever than I am, but you can get the idea.


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A Day that will live in Glory

October 27th, 1941 was a day that seemed to start like any other day. I was up early and had just finished a fine breakfast in the wardroom of the USS SALT LAKE CITY. The SLC was riding at anchor in the harbor in Long Beach, CA. We were enjoying a rest and recreation period. The good old Navy R & R.

After I finished my breakfast I relaxed in the wardroom for a few minutes before I got ready to go ashore. While I was relaxing ball-red-02 Deceased Lieut. Winsor (Windy) Gale stopped by and casually asked, “What are you doing today, Coie?” I said, “Not much, Windy, except that I’m planning to get married this afternoon.”

Windy was taken aback by this and asked, “Are you having a military wedding?” “No”, I replied, “I feel that is something you Academy men have that is special. Chaplain W. J. Kuhn is conducting the ceremony, so it has a military flavor.”

At this Windy became unglued. “You are going to cheat your young lady out of a military wedding? Sit down and shut up. You will have nothing more to say about this.” “But, Windy” I pleaded, “the wedding is scheduled for 1:30 this afternoon. We can’t possibly be ready by then.”

“Yes, we can.” He replied and promptly went into action. Windy was an action man. He nailed the next seven junior officers that came into the wardroom and told them to get their sword belts and swords on because they were going up the foc’sl to practice the Arch of Swords. “We are going to marry Coie and his new bride off in style – military style.”

About this time Deceased Lieut. Commander Church Chappell, the ship’s navigator, came into the wardroom, saw all the activity and asked what was going on. Windy told him of the new plans and what they intended to do. Church asked who would be giving the bride away. I said, “Ruth lives in Chicago, her father is dead and we had not planned to need anyone to give the bride away. So I guess we will have to call this off.” His response was, “Not by a long sight. As of now you can address me as your new father-in-law. I will give the bride away.”

Seeing no hope of derailing this runaway train, I meekly asked if I could at least go ashore and inform Ruth of these radical changes to her wedding plans because of course she knew nothing of what had happened.

Church again stepped into the breach. He said that I was not to worry. He would take care of informing Ruth and that he would keep her entertained until the wedding.

I had to agree, because now a Lieutenant and a Lieutenant Commander were pulling my strings. What was a lowly Ensign to do? I finally got their approval to go ashore to take care of last minute business as long as I swore that I would not go near the bride before the wedding.

I did have serious business to attend to. I had to get the marriage license from the Court House and arrange for a photographer and wedding pictures, and to arrange for the flowers.

Armed with my medical clearance that was required in California, I approached the County Clerk’s office and asked for my license. After looking over the medical certificate showing the results of my blood tests, the clerk said, “I can’t accept this. You had this done by your ship’s doctor who is licensed in Michigan – not California.

I was dumbfounded. Pleading as hard as I could, I could not shake her. The law was the law, and the certificate had to be signed by a California-licensed doctor. I explained about all the plans and the short time we would be in Long Beach, but she was firm. The law was the law.

Dazed, I left the Court House wondering what to do. But nothing could keep me from giving it a full SALT LAKE CITY try. I looked around for the nearest large office building and scanned the building directory until I found a doctor’s office. I took the elevator to the floor the office was on and made my entry.

Unfortunately the doctor had just stepped out for a short time but his nurse was there to hear my story. I have always prided myself on being able to really lay it on in telling a sob story. Even though it had not worked with the Country Clerk, I would just have to try harder with the nurse. After I had finished she said she did not know what the doctor could do since it takes two days to run a test. She said that she was very sympathetic with my problem and would explain it to the doctor to see what he would do. I sweated out the next fifteen minutes until the nurse motioned for me to see the doctor. He said, “I have seen your medical certificate and feel you are perfectly okay. But for me to sign the certificate is highly irregular. If the results are positive, I can call the church and stop the wedding. If this is alright with you, I will sign a new certificate.”

Since it was almost 10:00 o’clock and the wedding was at 1:30 I knew that this was only a dodge to make things seem more legal, so I happily agreed.

Again, armed with a new medical certificate, I approached the County Clerk’s office. Thankfully I was served by a different clerk so I did not have to give any explanations. I received the license and was on my way. I arranged for a photographer and for flowers. I felt completely exhausted. I thought I just had time to meet with my sword bearers and we would all go to the church together.

They were all assembled in the bar of the Breakers Hotel. They greeted me warmly and insisted I join them in a final bachelor drink. The one they fixed for me was loaded. I was not too sure I could carry out my part of the ceremony. The adrenalin was running so high it saved me.

I met my brother at the church. He was to be the best man and his wife was to be the matron of honor. My parents were there, very proud of their son. Also present was my new “father-in-law”. He assured me all was well with my bride. I am sure she could add a lot to this story by telling of her reaction to the startling news.

The wedding went off without a single mistake. After all that had happened that day I was really surprised. After we had marched through the arch of swords we posed for some wedding pictures. Deceased Ensign Burton Bikle, one of the ushers, took advantage of this time to announce that they had no rice and a wedding was not a wedding without rice.

Ensign Bikle took off at a full gallop down the sidewalk, his sword slapping at his side, to a neighborhood grocery to buy rice. A lady, seeing him in all his haste, came out of her house and asked what was wrong. Without slowing, Bikle yelled over his shoulder, “The Japs are coming, the Japs are coming.” The frightened lady hurriedly ran back into the house. The stories she must have told would have been fantastic.

Now this was in October prior to December 7, so it was apparent there was some fear of a possible Japanese attack. Especially since our “R&R” had been cut short.

Ensign Bikle’s run was the crowning climax to the day that will live in glory. (As a post-script to this story I would like to add that I owe Windy Gale a great deal for arranging a memorable wedding. I wish I could thank him in person, but unfortunately he was killed in the course of the Battle of the Komandorski Islands near the Aleutian Islands. This battle took place a little over three months after I left the ship.)


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A Warning Ignored

When I tell the following story I am often faced with doubters who feel I am making up a real sea story. All I know is that I was there and know it really happened.

Early in November 1941, some weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS SALT LAKE CITY was moored in the harbor’s cruiser berthing. As the second division officer one of my duties in peace time navy was to maintain the Captain’s gig and when he called it to be used, I was to ride in it standing in the cockpit with the coxswain and give and return salutes from other junior or senior boats that we passed.

As Captain Ellis M. Zacharias asked that his boat be called up, I readied myself in a clean white uniform and waited at the gangway. Captain Zacharias entered the boat in his finest white uniform. Being a very saving man, he seldom wore that uniform, so I knew that something special was afoot. Also, he was unusually keyed up.

My instructions were to take him to the Sub Base in Pearl Harbor. I knew that was where admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander of the Pacific Fleet had his headquarters.

When we arrived at the Sub Base the Captain acknowledge my salute and headed into the building. The coxswain and I waited for some time for him to return. After a period of an hour or maybe a little longer, he came out. Obviously he was very upset, so much so that he just managed to acknowledge my salute before he sat down in the gig and told me to head back to the ship.

When we arrived I heard him tell the Officer of the Deck to pass the word for all officers to assemble in the wardroom. After putting the boat away, I joined the other officers in the wardroom and awaited the Captain’s arrival.

When the Captain entered he was clearly in an outraged state. His opening remarks told us why. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I have just been laughed out of the Admiral’s office.” He went on to tell an amazing story.

It seems Captain Zacharias had at one time been the Naval Attaché to Japan. Later he was a senior officer in Naval Intelligence in Washington, D. C. His story was that he had maintained secret contact with one of his Korean servants from his period in Japan.

This Korean had somehow come across information that Japan was planning an attack on Pearl Harbor. He further informed Captain Zacharias that the most likely time for this attack was on “Black Dragon Sunday” which was December 7. Having this information so close to the anticipated date, the Captain felt he had to pass it on to his superiors. When he did, Admiral Kimmel and his staff could not believe that any such a fool-hardy move by Japan was in any way feasible. In fact, they took the information in something of a humorous vein and thought the Korean informant was incorrect and planned to do nothing about it.

Captain Zacharias then announced to his officers that even though this had been ignored by others, this ship would be ready. Starting immediately Condition of Readiness 3 was set on the ship and would be maintained until further notice.

Condition of Readiness Three meant that we had to stand a watch in three; one third of the guns would be manned at all times, and no more than one third of the crew would be ashore at one time.

We were in this preparedness mode from that time until the action ultimately broke out on December 7, 1941.

As I said earlier, you may not believe this story, but I can only repeat – I was there.


Related Story: This Week around the World by William Ewing
Related Story: Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel Canned Dec. 17th, 1941
Related Story: FDR- Did he Know?
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A Day that will live in Infamy – Plus One

In the middle of November 1941, the USS SALT LAKE CITY in company with the USS CHESTER and the USS NORTHAMPTON and several destroyers were formed into a Task Group to accompany the carrier USS ENTERPRISE on a trip to Wake Island. The ENTERPRISE had a deck load of fighter planes which she was delivering to the marines stationed on Wake Island.

This trip was scheduled to return to Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. En route home however, we ran into some heavy seas and the destroyers requested that we slow down. This slowing caused us to lose one day from our expected arrival time.

On December 7 at about 7:00 A.M. our ship’s internal speaker blared out that Pearl Harbor was under attack by a Japanese force. The announcement assured us that this was no drill. I happened to be just stepping out of the shower. I hurriedly dressed and joined the other officers in the wardroom. I was just in time to hear the General Quarters alarm sound. We had no time to even exchange amazed comments about what was happening. Since many of the officers were married and their wives and families were living in Honolulu, they were naturally very worried.

We remained at General Quarters all that day and the following night. On the morning of December 8 we sortied for our entrance into Pearl Harbor. As assistant Navigator I was on the bridge tending to my piloting duties when the Pilot from the harbor came aboard. He looked like the very essence of doom.

The pilot waved his arm at the ENTERPRISE and our force and made an astounding statement. “This is it. This is all there is of the U. S. Fleet in the Pacific.” We really could not comprehend what he was saying.

As we proceeded down the channel into the harbor, it became increasingly clear. One U. S. plane lay partly exposed in the water at the entrance to the channel. A little further along we saw the USS NEVADA piled up aground on the side of the channel. As we proceeded further we could see large plumes of smoke rising above what we knew as battleship row. And more smoke was rising from the drydocks where the USS PENNSYLVANIA, another battleship and the destroyers USS CASSIN and USS DOWNS were all undergoing repairs.

We moored on the far side of Ford Island from the battleships. This was not our normal berthing point. We were just opposite the USS UTAH, an old, out-of-date battleship which was upside down with only the bottom of the hull showing above water.

The smell from the burning ships was ghastly. It was coming from the pyres of hundreds of burning U. S. Navy men in the USS ARIZONA.

Work crews were attacking the bottom of the UTAH and we watched while they opened holes in the bottom and pulled out several survivors. We understood that the OKLAHOMA was likewise overturned and men were being taken out as well.

The general attitude on the SALT LAKE CITY was not one of fear, but rather a hardening. Our crew literally grew up that day. You could almost see their jaws set and a firm resolve set in. Someone would have to pay for this.

We continued at our General Quarters stations for a while. Finally, in order to give the crew some rest, we relaxed into a Condition of Readiness 2. This Condition 2 was maintained until about midnight, when something triggered an alert. The word went around that the Japanese were finally starting to land on Oahu. We immediately went to General Quarters. As assistant navigator, my station at that time was at Battle Station 2, where the Executive Officer was stationed, ready to take command if anything happened to the bridge and the Captain. I was then to become the navigator.

We also had a force of signalmen, look-outs and phone talkers to keep us informed of the ship’s activities. I had been instructed to arm each man with a rifle, so I drew enough for all of them from the armory. I was satisfied with my 45 caliber sidearm.

Soon word was passed that a boat was approaching our ship on the port side. All hands got ready with their rifles. As I went around inspecting them, I was horrified to find that every one of them had a bead on the members of the five inch gun crews below us. In another moment of excitement my trusty invasion repellers would have wiped out our entire port side secondary battery.

I immediately had them all put their guns on safety and turn them in. We stacked them so they would be readily available – but only in the direst of circumstances.

Meanwhile we found that the entire alert had been sparked by one lone patrol boat cruising the harbor to make sure that there was no attack. There was never a small boat in any war that had more guns pointing at it than that one small patrol boat. As soon as the mix-up was cleared, we secured from General Quarters and went back to our normal Condition 2.

The next morning, all fueled and with a new supply of ammunition for our eight inch and five inch guns, we steamed out to try to locate the Japanese fleet. We knew that they would have a considerably larger force, but with the old American “Can Do” attitude we were certainly willing to take them on to avenge our many lost comrades.

We searched for several days, but the Japanese had gone home and we never made contact.

There was one event though that made the trip notable. Following the normal procedure for my job, I was on the wing of the bridge preparing to take a noon sun line, which would give us a latitude line that we could use to fix our position.

Before we left Pearl Harbor we received two new quartermasters who had been taken from the bottom of the USS OKLAHOMA. They had been assigned to steering aft at the time of the attack. Now steering aft is as far down and as far aft as you can get on a ship. In that location they could steer the ship by hand in case the power went out to the normal steering apparatus. But the OKLAHOMA never got underway and the men in steering aft found themselves in an upside-down condition from which there was no escape until someone heard them pounding and cut a hole in the ship’s bottom to extricate them.

On this day when I was ready to take my noon sun line I was assisted by one of these quartermasters from the OKLAHOMA. While waiting to start out sightings we looked over the side of the ship just in time to see a torpedo wake heading directly for us. Captain Zacharias had already been alerted by our lookouts and he took immediate evasive action – so we watched the torpedo wake travel perilously close to the ship as it went harmlessly down the starboard side.

After shaking off the initial shock I looked at my watch and saw that it was time to start using my sextant. It was the quartermaster’s job to repeat the altitude readings I read from my sextant and enter them in his notebook along with the time that they were taken. We would read the altitudes in ascending order until they reached the highest point and then they would start down again. This meant that we would have reached local apparent noon.

I read my sights and the quartermaster dutifully repeated them. When I completed my sights and read the last one, I looked at the quartermaster and was surprised to see that he was looking straight ahead, seeming almost hypnotized. He had not written a singe thing in his book. So that day we did not get a noon sun line. I figured we would just have to give our boy a little more time to overcome all that had happened to him before he would be back to normal. Before we reached Pearl Harbor on our return, he was perfectly okay and he turned out to be an excellent quartermaster.


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The First Shot fired in Revenge

In the middle of January 1942 the USS SALT LAKE CITY, in company with the USS CHESTER and several destroyers sailed from Pearl Harbor under the command of Admiral William F. (Bull) Halsey on the USS ENTERPRISE to try our hand against the new Japanese enemy.

In a diverting maneuver we headed first for Samoa where the ENTERPRISE delivered several aircraft for the protection of the U. S. Territory.

The next step was the real purpose of the swing south. We now headed back northwest, aiming for the Japanese-held Marshall Islands. The SALT LAKE CITY’s objective in the Marshall Islands was the atoll of Wotje. We arrived off Wotje on February 1, 1942 totally unexpected by the Japanese. After launching our spotting planes and taking up our stations we proceeded to lay down a barrage of eight and five inch shells. We had finally fired the first shots in retribution for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

These shots were highly successful. Gasoline and ammunition dumps were seen to blow up and thanks to the spotting planes; at least four or five large merchant ships and several small military craft were sunk. We called our planes back and started recovering them from the water. All was going well and we had recovered three of the four planes when the fourth one turned around and headed back to Wotje. We found later that he had a 100 pound bomb that he had forgotten to drop and he was returning to leave his final calling card.

When the pilot returned and landed for a pick-up, word was received that a Japanese submarine had been sighted. In the hurry and confusion following the sighting report, the plane fell off the hoisting crane back into the water where it turned upside down. The SALT LAKE CITY could not endanger the crew and ship to maneuver to pick up the pilot and radioman from the plane, so we had to steam off leaving the two of them sitting on the pontoon of their capsized plane. They were later picked up by one of the destroyers and returned to their ship.

I did not see any of the foregoing action because as the junior turret officer in turret 2, I had unfortunately been assigned to oversee the passing of eight inch powder bags from the lower handling room in one of the lowest decks on the ship. This was an unnecessary assignment and was discontinued in later engagements. The powder bag passing went without a hitch. All was well until we were well clear of the atoll.

We then received word that high level Japanese bombers were forming to stage an attack on our ship. We suddenly could hear the explosions as bombs dropped nearby. None actually hit the ship, but one was so close that shrapnel in the form of bomb fragments actually dropped on the after deck.

In our little confined space below decks all was not well. One of the sailors was going berserk, flailing around and swinging his arms as he kept shouting “I don’t like airplanes”. Seeing that something had to be done, I grabbed a lead “monkey fist” from the bulkhead. It was designed to hammer shut the dogs on the waterproof hatches into our compartment. I shook this “monkey fist” in the face of our problem sailor and said, “I don’t like planes either, but I’m not making such a fuss about it. Now sit down and shut up.”

Being more afraid of immediate danger, he crawled into a corner where he laid curled up, whimpering. All was then calm until we were finally released from General Quarters. I have often wondered whether or not I would have used my improvised weapon. Thank heaven we will never know.

On our way back to Pearl Harbor we received word from our intelligence that the Japanese had stationed submarines across our return route to intercept us. This was where “Bull” Halsey started to earn his reputation and the phrase “Haul ass with Halsey” was born.

He decided that instead of returning to Pearl he would head west for Wake Island, which had surrendered to the Japanese. He would launch another attack with shore bombardment and aerial bombing. Another successful raid was carried out and the submarine picket line was thwarted.

To carry our deceptive maneuver further, Admiral Halsey continued even further west and he launched an aerial attack on the small previously unnoticed Marcus Island. We really believe he did this to prove how close we could come to attacking the Japanese home land, thereby causing them to keep more of their fleet at home. Having been successful in three strikes against the enemy, we now returned to Pearl Harbor to receive the plaudits of the other ships.


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To Shangri-La and back

At the beginning of April 1942 the USS SALT LAKE CITY received orders to leave Pearl Harbor on a mission that was shrouded in secrecy. All we knew what that we were to steam northwest and join with a force already underway.

Our group was made up of cruisers and destroyers. We had no idea what the make-up was of the force we would join. Nor did we have any idea what our job would be after we joined.

After a day or two we spotted the other force. It turned out to be the USS HORNET and an escort group. We took our assigned station and steamed almost due west. This made us somewhat nervous because the only thing in that direction was Japan. This was a pretty small force to attack the mainland of Japan. We did notice that the deck of the HORNET was filled with planes of a type with which we were not familiar, at least not on a carrier. They looked more like B-25 bombers used by the Army Air Force. If they were being ferried to someplace we could not figure out where in the direction we were headed.

As the days passed we kept getting closer and closer to Japan. Our concern grew in relation to the shortening of the distance.

When we were somewhere between six hundred and one thousand miles from Japan, a lookout spotted a Japanese fishing boat. Feeling that this boat may have been one of several stationed in a circle at this distance from Japan to note the approach of any hostile force, the Admiral in charge felt the fishing boat should be sunk before it could send off any radio messages as a warning to Japan.

The SALT LAKE CITY was designated to sink the boat, which she did in short order.

Even though the boat had been sunk, there was no assurance that a message had not gotten off. We had not gotten as close to Japan as the command wished, but the decision was made to proceed with the plan.

We finally found out what was going on. The planes on the deck of the HORNET were indeed B-25’s. They were under the command of General Jimmy Doolittle. The pilots were trained to take off from the deck of a carrier. This was a feat no one thought possible. They were to continue west and to bomb Tokyo. After the bombing they were to continue on over China to land in the area held by Chiang Kai-shek. It was for this last leg that they had hoped they would be closer before they took off. The danger of the loss of surprise, however, was too great.

From our ship, riding as plane guard astern of the HORNET, we watched as the big and seemingly cumbersome planes rolled down the flight deck and took to the air. Each plane dropped as it left the deck and momentarily disappeared. We thought it had gone into the water, but soon each plane pulled up and took off on its westward journey.

The results of this raid have been thoroughly documented and reported so there is no need to repeat them here.

As soon as the last plane had safely taken off, our force reversed course and headed home to Pearl Harbor at full speed.

The Japanese had no idea where the attack originated. All members of our crew and all the other crews were told never to mention this operation. It speaks well of their training that word never go out and it was played up in the U. S. media that the raid originated in Shangri-La.


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The call that Shook a city

Early in 1943 the USS SALT LAKE CITY was assigned to the Australian Fleet in Brisbane, Australia. This was part of an attempt to prevent the Japanese from trying to mount a landing on the Australian continent. Since we had already spent a week in Brisbane during the previous year, the area was not strange to the crew.

Among the steps taken to keep us always on the alert and ready for immediate action was the creation of an emergency call for all hands to drop whatever they were doing and return to the ship immediately. This call led to one of the more memorable events of our period in Brisbane.

The emergency call was “CALL FOR LADY HAMILTON” and it was to be played on all radio stations, blared from bull horns on the streets and flashed on movie screens at all theaters, in fact, any way at all by which the word could be spread rapidly.

When it looked as though such a mobilization had to be made in preparation for the Battle of the Coral Sea, the words CALL FOR LADY HAMILTON went out over the city.

At the time the call went out, I was at a party in the home of an Australian family in company with Lt. Windsor (Windy) Gale and Lt. (jg) Ralph Cheney, one of the aviators from the SALT LAKE CITY. As a lowly Ensign I felt quite honored to have been included in the party. We had the radio on low and were listening to the music while we talked. Suddenly the announcer excitedly broke into the program with the announcement, TO ALL AMERICAN SAILORS – CALL FOR LADY HAMILTON. This meant that not only were the members of the SALT LAKE CITY being summoned, but also those from six or eight other cruisers, destroyers, a carrier and supply ships as well.

Fortunately we had transportation on hand in the form of our host’s car. We all immediately piled into the car and headed back to our ship. All members of the party, ourselves included, were sure that the Japanese had started their feared assault on Australia. We were bid a farewell as though we were heading for the front line trenches.

As we drove through town we found a real pandemonium. Taxicabs were rolling filled with sailors, others hanging on the sides and from the spare tires. Streetcars (or trams) were filled completely inside, outside, on top and any place else where a body could ride. Several other private cars like ours were also loaded. There were even sailors on bicycles which generous Australians had loaned with the hope of someday being able to pick them up again. The streets were literally jammed with blue-jackets of all rates and ranks.

After due time we had our crew aboard and the fleet sailed down the Moreton River and headed into the Coral Sea. Our principal job was to protect the carrier USS ENTERPRISE from any type of attack – surface or air. As it happened, the battle turned out to be the first action that was carried out entirely by the opposing air forces from the U. S. carriers and those of Japan. Our forces were victorious and the intended assault on Australia was turned back. Even though we received a battle star for out participation, we contributed very little to the outcome.

When everything settled down we entertained each other with tales of the night of the CALL FOR THE LADY HAMILTON. Some of the stores were priceless. Standing watch with some of the sailors, seamen and rated men both, I heard many stories. I learned what had happened in one of the major theaters in Brisbane. When the call was flashed on the screen, one half of the audience erupted out of their seats. Soon the theater held row after row of alternating girls and empty seats – with the sailors heading pell-mell up the aisles.

Some of the men told indelicate stories of how the call had found them. These are not for repeating here. We enjoyed listening to the yarns for many a long night watch to make the time go faster, and as you might guess, the stories grew and improved with the telling. Somehow I ready did not believe all that I heard.


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How we lost our new support

In my job as a turret officer of the heavy cruiser USS SALT LAKE CITY, much of my time was spent in the control booth of turret four. During this time we were conducting drills, or sometimes just swapping yarns.

Since our view of what was going on around us was limited by the armored steel of the turret, I would frequently step to the turret periscope which gave us somewhat of a submariner’s view of our surrounding force.

At the time I have in mind, we were steaming in company with our task group somewhere south of the Solomon Islands. Our spirits had been lifted because our force had just been strengthened by the addition of the carrier WASP and the new battleship USS NORTH CAROLINA, along with their escorting destroyers and their supply ships. Since we had felt that our force was terrifically undermanned, we were really happy to see our new additions.

It was at these two new ships that I was directing my periscope scanning. What I saw was something I never expected. As I centered on the WASP it seemed the entire side of the ship exploded. It was obvious that a Japanese submarine had managed a direct hit with at least one and maybe more torpedoes.

I quickly swung around to look at the USS NORTH CAROLINA – just in time to see another blast from her side. To put it bluntly – all hell had broken loose. Destroyers were spreading out in all directions searching for the sub. Immediately General Quarters sounded, so we manned our turret. Since an eight inch turret has no function against a submarine, all we could do was wait and listen to the reports from our fire control circuit. The reports were not encouraging.

The WASP was burning badly and eventually all hands had to abandon ship and she later sank. The NORTH CAROLINA was more heavily armored and withstood the torpedo attack with far less damage. But she would definitely be out of action for some time.

So there we were - our much appreciated new help had suddenly been neutralized by Japanese submarines and we had to plan accordingly.


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The Guadalcanal Landing

Early in July the SALT LAKE CITY and accompanying ships received orders to leave Brisbane, Australia and proceed south. We had no idea what the mission was, since we seemed to be going away from the action.

We finally survived the rough seas of the “horse latitudes” and made our way between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Our force made port in Wellington, New Zealand where we were surprised to see such a large number of U. S. and other country’s ships gathered. We found that this was the staging area for a large landing effort. We spent a few days in Wellington while we waited for all of our forces to gather.

When we left Wellington we headed northeast and ultimately reached the Fiji Islands. In the Fijis the marines of our force conducted practice landings and we stood off to protect them.

Our force was now ready, so we headed for our target, which we found was Guadalcanal. When we reached our objective area we were broken into two forces; one was to conduct the landing, with shore bombardment from several cruisers and destroyers. The other force, which included the carrier USS ENTERPRISE, was stationed nearby to prevent any interference from enemy planes. As usual, the SALT LAKE CITY was with the ENTERPRISE.

It was fortunate we were not in the strike force bombarding for the landing. Shortly after they had seen the marines conduct a successful landing, the cruisers returned to the area south of Savo Island. During the night the Japanese pulled a surprise attack. They caught the cruisers entirely off guard. We lost the heavy cruisers QUINCY, VINCENNES, and ASTORIA and the Australian heavy cruiser CANBERRA. It was one of the worst defeats the U. S. Navy has ever suffered. It was a terrible blow to our already too short force.

One again, as in the Coral Sea, we had been a part of the action but had contributed very little. But our day was yet to come.


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Ten Glowing Fingers of Fire

All through the period of July to October the troops holding Guadalcanal were having increasing problems because the Japanese seemed to be able to reinforce their position at will. They were running the “Tokyo Express” or “Guadalcanal Express” as it was also called, down from Rabaul, New Guinea through the “slot” in the Solomon Islands. The movements of the Japanese ships in their passage through the islands were completely reported by the Australian Coast Watchers of the type mentioned in the popular musical “South Pacific”.

In late September of 1942 the USS SALT LAKE CITY, the USS SAN FRANCISCO, the USS BOISE, and the USS HELENA, along with several destroyers, were getting in position to do something about stopping the “Tokyo Express”. By early October our force was steaming off Guadalcanal, hoping to the catch the Japanese off guard.

Our final moves were made on Oct. 11, 1942 when we started to close on the northern end of the island at night, steaming in a column with destroyers in the can and the rear and the four cruisers in the middle.

One of our plans was to launch one plane so that it could be used for spotting. It could drop a flare behind the enemy ships to give us better targets. One of our over-eager pilots almost blew the secrecy of our approach. He felt that if one flare, which the plane was equipped to carry in a secure rack, could help – why not take an extra one which could be lashed in behind the radioman’s seat and a second illumination would be possible.

As many last minute plans have a way of working out, this one was a disaster as well. As the plane was launched, the set-back from the jar of the catapult ignited the poorly secured flare, and the plane took off as a ball of fire. We felt it could be seen for miles and that our position had been compromised. As it happened, no advance knowledge was given by this unfortunate accident. We were, however, terribly concerned for the pilot and radioman in the burning plane.

As it turned out, the two men in a heroic effort managed to get out of the plane along with an inflatable rubber life boat. They spent several hours paddling around Guadalcanal.

During the daytime, Japanese snipers from the island would take shots at them, so they had to be sure to stay out of range. They finally reached the area held by the U. S. Marines and were eventually rescued.

Our column, meanwhile, were proceeding on our mission. Shortly before midnight our radar picked up some targets.

(From here on in my narrative I will quote freely from a written history of the SALT LAKE CITY so that I will not miss any of the important points of the action in the Battle of Savo Island.)

We steered straight ahead for Savo Island and at close range we had discovered the enemy. We soon found we had walked into something more important than the “Guadalcanal Express”.

The enemy had four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, six destroyers, and at least one transport. Apparently they planned to bombard our marines on Guadalcanal and to land in force.

It was thirteen minutes before midnight when the SALT LAKE CITY and the other American cruisers opened fire. The SALT LAKE CITY was firing at such close range that some of its guns had to be depressed and its hot shells whistled through the masts of an American destroyer caught in between.

Our gunners in fire control were cool and efficient. I was in Turret 4. The first victim was a light cruiser, illuminated by star shells. As I watched from the turret periscope, the ten guns of the SALT LAKE CITY barked simultaneously and ten big fingers of fire and metal jabbed the enemy in vital parts. As the target was burning fiercely, we shifted to another.

The second target was a heavy cruiser. We waited patiently for the right position. Finally we fired two salvos, twenty shots below the water line, blowing up the whole midsection.

The third victim was an auxiliary. The SALT LAKE CITY and her companions pounced and she went down by the bow with her stern up.

The fourth was a destroyer, one of three that had launched an unsuccessful torpedo attack. The SALT LAKE CITY gave her one salvo. When the smoke cleared nothing was to be seen of the destroyer.

At 0005, running out of fresh targets, the SALT LAKE CITY turned again on the first target, the wounded light cruiser. We handed her eight salvos. Large fires and explosions were noted.

By 0011 part of the American task force had vanished in pursuit of the enemy, while the BOISE, directly ahead of the SALT LAKE CITY, was afire and falling out to avoid torpedoes.

An enemy heavy cruiser was pouring incessant, accurate fire on the BOISE. We could hear the smacks. There was only one thing to do and we did it. As the BOISE fell away, we took her place and closed in. We were placing ourselves between the BOISE and the enemy. The BOISE was on fire and illuminated us. We were silhouetted, making a perfect set-up for the enemy fire control. We walked into three straddles that hurt us. Being accustomed to the jolts of our guns firing, I noticed one terrific jolt that was not in sync. I commented to the others in the booth, “That one was coming, not going”.

At our first salvo the enemy fell silent. Our ten fingers of fire had taken its toll.

On her part, the SALT LAKE CITY had sustained three major caliber hits, and lost 5 men killed and 21 wounded. We suffered extensive damage to one of our boilers. We were sent to Pearl Harbor for repairs and overhaul. The fighting men of the Pacific, talking of the battle, referred to the SALT LAKE CITY as the “One Ship Fleet”.


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A Medical Miracle

One of the big advantages the U. S. Navy had during the war was the ability they had developed to refuel their ships while they were underway. This meant that their cruising range was almost unlimited as long as they had a tanker available.

The at-sea fueling procedure was tricky. It required good seamanship on the part of the ship handlers of both vessels. All hands taking care of connecting the lines between the ships and connecting the fuel hoses had to be thoroughly trained. They also had to be excellent seamen.

One man violated one of the hard and fast rules of the fueling at sea maneuver. It ended in near tragic results. This man on the tanker should have known that in shooting a line-throwing gun at the ship to be fueled, he should always aim the fun at least 45 degrees up over the ship and let his line fall to the other ship’s deck.

The line-throwing gun was fired by a shell that impelled a steel bar about eight inches long and one-quarter inch in diameter through the air. This bar was rigged to be able to pull a light cord across the ship. This cord was attached to increasingly larger lines until the final heavy line used to tie the two ships together was finally pulled across.

In the operation under discussion, the tanker seaman aimed his gun directly across the deck of the SALT LAKE CITY. Just as he fired the gun, one of the SALT LAKE CITY bakers stepped up out of a hatch to catch a breath of fresh air.

The steel pin caught the baker full in the face. It struck him right beside his nose. The pin went completely through his head and came out the back of his neck. The pin fell to the deck behind him. A boatswain standing nearby saw what had happened and he cut the cord attached to the pin. The cord also fell from the baker’s head onto the deck.

The baker, in a very surprised voice said, “My God, I’ve been shot.” He placed one hand on his face and the other on his neck and, before anyone could come to his aid, he got back down the hatch and ran to the sick bay.

A miracle had happened. Even though the rod had passed completely through his head, it had hit no vital part. The man had very little pain and absolutely no ill effects later.

I have pictures showing where the pin went in and where it came out. An unbelievable medical miracle had happened.


ball-red-02 Bernard E. Godde, Bkr2c is the Medical Miracle Man

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Transition

December, 1942, I was detached from the USS SALT LAKE CITY and in October 1943, I participated as the new Executive Officer in the commissioning of the USS STRAUB (DE181).


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