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Our Veterans
Interview of Veteran Roy A. Mosebrook, USN

by Herman Ginther

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Mr. & Mrs. Roy A. Mosebrook own and operate a farm at historic "Oakdale" near Gladys in Campbell Co., VA. But they didn't always live there. On December 7, 1941, when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, they were living in Honolulu. Mrs. Mosebrook saw the Jap planes come over while her husband was still aboard his ship out at sea. .......But... we are getting ahead of our story.

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Roy Mosebrook was a young farm boy in Seven Valleys, PA., back in the Depression years of early 1930's. Times were hard and money was scarce. Roy made up his mind that he wanted to join the Navy, and he tried to enlist, but his father didn't want him to. For five years Roy kept trying to get into the Navy. One day in 1934 he took a load of chickens from the farm down to Baltimore; while he was there he looked up the Navy recruiting station, and they took him in.

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After going to the Navy Training Station at Norfolk, Roy was assigned to the USS Tuscaloosa. In Dec., 1938, with the rating of Sail makerís Mate 3rd Class, he became one of the crew of the USS SALT LAKE CITY, the first U.S. Heavy cruiser with a main battery of 10 eight-inch guns, home-based at Pearl Harbor.

On December 7, 1941, the Salt Lake City was escorting the carrier USS Enterprise on the return trip to Pearl Harbor, after putting a marine flying squadron on Wake Island. They were still 200 miles west of Pearl Harbor when they got word of the attack. The group immediately launched scouting planes in hopes of catching possible stragglers from the enemy force, but the search proved fruitless.

The ships entered Pearl Harbor toward sundown the following day. Roy said they saw the American ships burning in the harbor. They refueled during that hectic night, and put back out to sea before dawn to hunt submarines north of the islands. Submarines were encountered on Dec. 10 & 11th. The first was sunk by dive bombers from the Enterprise; the second, sighted ahead of the group on the surface, was engaged with gunfire by the Salt Lake City as the ships maneuvered to avoid torpedoes. Screening destroyers dropped numerous depth charges. The group returned to Pearl Harbor on the 15th to refuel.

The group was part of a task force that was sent to relieve beleaguered Wake Island. After Wake fell to the Japs, Salt Lake City's group moved to cover the reinforcement of Midway and Samoa.

"We ran into action at the Gilbert Islands," Roy said. "I remember we had a bath and clean clothes, and they gave us steak and eggs for breakfast before going into battle. We were making raids on the islands. My battle station was in the five-inch magazine when we were bombarding the island."

The Salt Lake City escorted the carriers Hornet and Enterprise to within 500 miles of the Japanese mainland to launch Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle's daring air raids on Tokyo in April, 1942.

From the tides of war it appeared that Australia was in peril. The Salt Lake City was ordered to join a protective force operating in the Coral Sea area. "We were sent to Australia to help beef up their small Navy-- they had only five ships in their fleet," Roy said.

The Salt Lake City was with the carrier Wasp on September 15 when the carrier was torpedoed by Japanese submarines and sunk. The cruiser assisted in the rescue of survivors.

Then came Guadalcanal. Task Force 64 was formed around the cruisers Salt Lake City, Boise, Helena and San Francisco to thwart the "Tokyo Express," a steady flow of Japanese vessels maintaining reinforcement and re-supply to Guadalcanal. The task force arrived off Espiritu Santo on Oct. 7 and, for two days, steamed near Guadalcanal and waited. Land-based search plane reports came in that an enemy force was steaming sown the "slot," and that night the task force moved to the vicinity of Savo Island to intercept it.

Search planes were ordered launched from the cruisers, but in the process of launching, Salt Lake City's plane caught fire as flares ignited in the cockpit. The plane crashed close to the ship and the two man crew managed to get free. They found safety on a nearby island. The brilliant fire was seen in the darkness by the Japanese, who assumed that it was a signal flare from the landing force which they were sent to protect. The Japanese flagship answered with blinker light, and receiving no reply, continued to signal. The American cruisers opened fire and continued scoring hits for a full seven minutes before the confused Japanese realized what was taking place. They had believed that, by error, their own forces were taking them under fire.

The action was over in half an hour. One Japanese cruiser sank; another was reduced to rubble; a third was holed twice; and a destroyer sank. The Salt Lake City sustained three major hits during the action. It was during this battle that the Salt Lake City earned the reputation as "the one-ship fleet" when she interposed herself between the Japanese ships and the severely crippled Boise that had fallen out of battle line and was a mass of flames. Salt Lake City's action diverted further attacks on the Boise and permitted them the respite necessary to extinguish the flames and exercise damage control procedures.

"We lost several ships," Roy said. "Fifteen men on our ship were killed by an anti-aircraft shell. We buried them at sea two days later."

[One of the 15 men that died was ball-red-02 Deceased Harold E. "Gus" Kronquist, CFC a good friend of the Mosebrooks].

He said they secured the airstrip at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal; those island airstrips were important to us, he explained, because if one of our aircraft carriers was sunk while its planes were in the air, those strips would give the planes an alternate place to land.

After going back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, in March, 1943, the Salt Lake City departed for the Aleutians and operated from Adak to prevent the Japanese from supporting their garrisons on Attu and Kiska. "There we ran into trouble," Roy said. "On March 26 we made contact with some Japanese transports and supporting vessels. Ours was the only heavy cruiser in our force; the enemy had two light cruisers and two heavy cruisers screened by four destroyers. By daylight we engaged the Japs in a running battle.

"Their two heavy cruisers were coming up, one on each side of us and shooting at us. We were returning their fire. Most of their shells fell short, but two of them hit our oil tanks and put our fires out. Our ship was dead in the water." The Japanese ships were closing fast. The Salt Lake City sent the ominous message to the Task Group Commander, "My Speed Zero." Luckily she was hidden in the smoke, and the enemy was not aware of her plight.

The destroyers charged the Japanese cruisers and began to draw the fire away from the Salt Lake City. They were taking extreme punishment by the time they launched a spread of torpedoes. In the meantime, Salt Lake City engineers were purging the fuel lines and firing boilers. With fresh oil supplying the fires, she was now building up steam and gaining headway. Suddenly the Japanese began to withdraw, for they were fast exhausting their ammunition. They never suspected that the Americans were far lower than themselves in both ammunition and fuel.

Despite being outnumbered two to one, the American ships succeeded in their purpose. The Japanese attempt to reinforce their bases in the Aleutians had failed, and they turned tail and headed home.

The Salt Lake City went to San Francisco for repairs, then returned to Pearl Harbor. She saw much more action in the South Pacific; Ellice Island, the Marshalls and Gilberts, Eniwetok, Ulithi, Iwo Jima, Palau, Okinawa and other islands.

Roy Mosebrook was transferred to the United States in October, 1944. He served aboard the USS Attu, a "baby flattop," then to Camp Elliott, CA.; USNTC at Miami, FL. and Little Creek, VA. Other ships he served on were the USS Warrington, USS Adironak, USS Gordius and USS Ruchampkin. He was transferred to the Fleet Reserve in November, 1953, and was retired as Chief Petty Officer, after serving 20 years in the Navy.

Mr. & Mrs. Mosebrook have four sons; their first, Jerry, was born in Honolulu tow months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Three served in the Navy during the Vietnam War; Bill on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt; Guy in Panama and Okinawa, and Raymond on a combat repair ship.

"Oakdale," where the Mosebrooks now live in Campbell Co., was once the home of Captain Adam Clement, who served in the War of 1812. One might hazard a guess that if the old Captain could come back, he would be pleased to know that his venerable homestead is now occupied by another good and loyal military man who served his country well, even if he was in the Navy instead of the Army.


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