"He was there when History was Made
Interview of USS SLC Veteran Hubert Pelham

by Flena Rubal
Medford, Wisconsin Star News, Aug. 9, 1995 Edition

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This year is the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and so many of our volunteers have memories of that war. One of our Newsletter volunteers was an observer of history over 50 years ago.

When our country was in the middle of that war, Hollywood began making movies about some of the great battles. We all remember "The Sands of Iwo Jima," "Guadal Canal diary," and "Back To Bataan." One of the battles that never reached the silver screen but was just as notable, was the "Battle of the Komandorskie Islands". The Komandorskies, are located near the Aleutian Islands between Russia and Alaska; the battle fought there in March of 1943 was one of the strangest sea engagements ever fought. Afterward, Americans who were engaged in it came to look upon it as a miracle at sea.

In an article entitled "My Speed Zero", published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1944, author John Bishop described the miracle as "...a great fighting ship walks wounded on the water, halts in her tracks to die, then comes alive to lob victorious shells at her foe."

One of our volunteers, Hubert Pelham, served aboard the ship, the USS Salt Lake City, during that battle.

In April of 1941, Hubert married Emma Sekadlo, Rib Lake, Wisconsin. In 1942, like so many young men at that time, Hubert volunteered for the Navy.

Originally assigned to an anti-aircraft gun, Hubert was transferred to a below deck assignment in charge of ship's post office. If you've never been aboard a ship, the assumption would be that below deck would be safer than manning an anti-aircraft gun. The truth, however, is that when in battle, "General Quarters" is sounded which means all doors below deck are sealed. Anyone stationed below can be trapped, should the ship be hit or begin to sink.

The Salt Lake City was under "General Quarters" for 16 hours during which time it was hit and began to take on water. It was only after the water level reached shoulder height in the engine room, that the breach in the hull was closed. By that time, however, the damage had been done and the water and oil mixture seeped into the lines feeding the engines. Soon, the engines stopped and the great ship was dead in the water. A sitting target, the heavy cruiser would not be able to withstand the enemy attack for long.

The US Fleet of ships included three destroyers which were deployed to go in against the enemy force and launch a torpedo attack, pressing it home as long as they could manage to remain afloat. The torpedo attack was simply a bid for time, a great sacrifice play by the destroyers to draw the gunfire of the enemy force away from the Salt Lake City. The hope was that the heavy cruiser would have enough time for her men to clear the fuel lines of water and for her to get underway again.

The "miracle at sea" occurred when after eight long minutes, the engines slowly began to turn. The intercession of the destroyers had worked and the cruiser again became the aggressor. The enemy ships eventually retreated and a blockade of the Japanese held Aleutian Islands was successful.

Hubert earned eight bronze battle stars while aboard the USS Salt Lake City. Discharged in December of 1945, Hubert had been awarded several medals, among them were the Purple Heart Medal, WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, Philippines Liberation Medal.

Returning home after the war, Hubert & Emma settled in Mefford, Wisconsin, where he continued his printing career with the Star News which had begun in 1936. On the advice of friends and after learning about an opening at the Cassopolis Vigilant in 1959 Hubert & Emma moved to Cass County.

With printer's ink in his veins, Hubert continued with the newspaper business until his retirement in 1977 from the Niles Daily Star.

Our monthly newsletter team of volunteers really heavily on Hubert's newspaper background. He oversees the production line of folding, stapling and labeling, while doing all of the bundling of the papers. His quiet genteel method of directing an operation was sorely missed during his wife's recent illness, which kept him from volunteering.

If you were to ask Hubert of what four things he was the proudest, you would have an insight into a man who is proud of his background and proud of his years of service. The four things, I'm sure would be: A native of Menahga, Minnesota; married for 54 years to his wife, Emma; his three years aboard the USS Salt Lake City; and his 45 years in the newspaper and printing trades.

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