His Story from
December 7th, 1941 and beyond
by Bill Leary

We were manning our battle stations one hour before sunrise and we had secured for General Quarters. I was in the Mess Hall for breakfast when Captain Zacharias spoke on the loud speaker to man your battle stations, the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor and we were at war.

We were 200 miles away from Pearl Harbor headed back on alert at all times. I understand that planes from the USS ENTERPRISE did go in and engage some of the Jap planes. We entered Pearl Harbor the next morning on Dec. 8th and it was a sorry mess. It was so disheartening and made you wonder how could this happen.

We proceeded to the dock and worked all night taking on provisions. The shipyard crew installed twenty and forty millimeter guns. We took on ammunition and the went out the next day to patrol around the Island of Oahu. We were scheduled to provide relief for Wake Island, but that had fell to the Japanese. We were sent to cover for Midway and Samoa Islands.

On February 1st, 1942, under the Command of Admiral Halsey, we conducted our first offensive action of the war by bombarding Wotje Atoll, one of the principal Jap bases in the Marshall Islands. The USS SLC opened fire a few seconds before our fellow ships. Military installations were destroyed and there were seven to nine Cargo Ships sunk and one twin engine bomber shot down. Jap planes made bombing runs on us, but the Captain said they missed by 100 yards.

On February 24, 1942 we bombarded Japanese held Wake Island.

On March 4th, 1942, planes from the USS ENTERPRISE bombed Marcus Island. One month later we left Pearl Harbor under secret orders and met the USS HORNET at sea.

When we saw the USS HORNET with those B-25 bombers, it was a sight to behold. The Captain explained to us that we were trying to get as close to Japan as possible without being noticed. It was one of our lookouts that spotted the picket boat. It was sunk by gunfire from the USS NASHVILLE and the USS SLC. The planes were launched earlier than expected and that was something to see. When had a really heavy sea that day and our gunnery officer in our turret let us take turns watching those bombers take off from the carrier. General Doolittle and his men did a great job and the Japs found out that their "Sun God" could not protect them. This all happened in April of 1942.

The Japs were moving south so we went to Australia to reinforce the Australian fleet. In August we went to Wellington, New Zealand and a joined a huge group of ship transports and warships. We left New Zealand and headed for the Guadalcanal Islands.

We then went on patrol with the carrier USS WASP and ran in to a Japanese sub group on Sept. 15th, 1942. We were dodging torpedoes like mad about 100 yards from the USS WASP when she was hit and sunk. We helped rescue her survivors.


At this time we had a writer on board by the name of Joseph Driscoll, a correspondent from the New York Herald-Tribune, and because of censorship he could not use the name of our ship, so he named her the "Swayback".

We were suppose to go into Tulagi at night but we were told our ammunition was the wrong type so the USS VINCENNES went in our place with three other cruisers. All four cruisers were sunk that night. One of our SOC pilots was with one of those ships, and I do not know what happened, but the pilot said he would never leave our ship again.

After the sinking of the USS WASP we went to Espirito Santos in the New Hebricles Islands and trained for night battle to stop the "Tokyo Express" which was bringing in reinforcements. We had a number of dummy runs, but no enemy. On the night of October 11th, 1942 we intercepted the "Tokyo Express" which turned into the battle of Cape Esperance. It seems the Japs had been running their Express every night and on this Sunday night our Task Force set out to stop it. We did not have radar as we do today and we ran in to their ships. Four heavy and two light cruisers, six destroyers and one transport. They were trying to bombard our Marines and land their troops. We were at such a close range our gunners had to depress our guns so much that shells whistled between the stacks on the destroyers.

The first victim was a light cruiser which was illuminated by star shells. Our ten - ten inch guns simultaneously tore the enemy apart.

The second target was a heavy cruiser. We opened fire. Two salvo twenty eight inch shells finished the enemy cruiser.

The third victim was an auxiliary ship. The Task Force took aim and another enemy ship went down - bow first.

The fourth victim was a destroyer who had launched a torpedo attack. The USS SLC gave her one ten gun salvo and down she went.

Running out of targets, the SLC turned to a burning enemy cruiser with one ten gun salvo to finish her. The USS BOISE was directly ahead of us and she was afire. Captain Zacharias[it was Capt. Shorty Small] sailed abreast of her and we started to take hits. We fired a ten gun salvo and the enemy went silent. We gave them four more salvos and it sank.

The USS SLC sustained three major hits and five men were killed and twenty one were wounded. We returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs. The fighting men of the Pacific that were talking about the Battle of Cape Esperance called the USS SLC the "One Ship Fleet".

We had a smart, wonderful, well liked and respected Captain in Ellis M. Zacharias. After each engagement he would have all hands at quarters and tell us what he had observed from the bridge. We saw very little, busy being in the turrets firing. We found out why we drilled so much before the war. In gunnery practice the eight inch guns we had ten second loads. During battle we were doing 7 and 8 second loads. Shows practice makes perfect.

On Feb. 19th, 1943 I was transferred to new construction. The USS SLC went on to many more battles.

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