Ex-seamen to let memories of their voyages sail
Source: Suburban Trib., Lincolnshire, IL. July 27th, 1981 by Larry Mark
"She looked like something the cat dragged in. She was as glamorous as a middling beautiful
warthog. She was as luxurious as a garbage truck. Public acclaim passed her by. But she
could fight, brother; she could fight."...The Milwaukee Journal, May 17, 1948
She was the USS Salt Lake City, one of the oldest and heaviest cruisers that saw action in the
Pacific during WWII. She was first commissioned in 1929 and until was intentionally destroyed
in 1948 because it had been exposed to radiation during atomic bomb tests after the war, she
was home for more than 1,100 sailors.
Despite the ship's looks, she had an impressive fighting record. In that same Milwaukee Journal article, the reporter continued:
"She fired the first American shells to land on Japanese held soil"
"She fought in the longest naval duel ever staged by American ships and, in standing off twice her own weight, may have saved the invasion of Attu (an island in the Aleutians)."
"She engaged in 91 days of bombardment in a period of 101 days, probably a world record."
"And, her sailors engaged in 31 shootouts against the Japanese. She survived all these battles".
Many of her sailors recall her every inch and every minute spent with her as if it was yesterday and not three decades ago.
She "was a tough, old ship," recalls Alfred John Frank, a 58 year old Des Plaines resident. "When she would take me out, I felt, I really did, that she was going to bring me back. Maybe I was just young and stupid."
Frank probably recalls her better than most of her sailors. As president of the USS SLC Association, he spends a lot of time thinking about her, her sailors, and what happened to them.
Frank and three other Chicago-area veterans recently gathered in his home to reminisce about their years on the ship and to rehash favorite war stories. They've been doing a lot of looking back lately as they prepare for an upcoming reunion of the ship's crew.
The reunion, which will be held in Marriott’s Lincolnshire resort, will be the fifth such gathering in the last 10 years. but it will be the first in the Chicago area, which Frank believes is the home of several hundred of the crew’s veterans, many of whom he hasn’t been able to locate.
Frank and his friends…Samuel G. Booras
of Lincolnwood, Jim O’Hara
of Oak Park, and Angelo Biondo
of Chicago---say they look forward to the reunion for the chance to see old friends and see what they’ve done with their lives.
But, more than that, much more than that, the eagerly await the four-day affair for another opportunity, namely the chance to talk about their bond, the USS SLC.
Frank, the only one of the four who has attended the previous reunions, explains; “We don’t really discuss professional achievements or what everyone’s done with their lives. it’s more of a bull session where everyone rehashes their experience from back then.”
If the others who attend are like these four men, there will be no lack of stories being rehashed.
Borras can tell about an incident he understandably recalls better than any other during his 2 ½ years aboard the ship:
During some particularly bad weather, I was swept away by a big wave. I thought I’d seen the last of the ship, and everyone and everything else for that matter. But a few minutes later, I don’t know how or why, I was swept back, and next thing I knew, I was next to the ship.
Or he can recall a more amusing take:
I was on liberty in Pearl Harbor. I checked into the hotel and planned to just go straight to sleep. I was in a second floor room down to my shorts when I heard music outside. Looking out the window I saw a circle of Hawaiian girls dancing. I leaned out my balcony and next thing I knew, I was in the middle of their circle. I had fallen. I calmly got up and walked back up to my room. Looking back, I can’t believe I wasn’t hurt.”
Biondo will tell about the one time he felt like a hero:
We were pulled aside a tanker and I went down below to have coffee with an old friend. I heard the SLC start to pull away. I don’t remember what hit me, but I just ran faster than I’d ever run before….or since…knowing I’d be AWOL if I didn’t get on that ship. I ran up above and saw my ship start to pull off. There must have been 15 feet between the two and I jumped. I landed on our deck with room to spare. All the guys on deck burst into applause and cheered me like I was some kind of hero.
For every story each man relates, his friends have at least tow more they can tell.
Frank remembers a day when the crew members got off the ship on an island to find several hundred women waiting for the sailors. They sailors would choose their women and pair off.
He recalls a period of months when there was little food to be had and the men ate little, but beans.
O’Hara interrupts to tell of an intelligent sailor on the ship who couldn’t read or write. This story reminds Borras of a crew member who was a college professor back home but couldn’t take the pressure and had a nervous breakdown.
The friends’ conversation continues, in much the same way their reunion probably will. They talk about events, and people that they haven’t thought of, or least haven’t spoke of, in many years. They speak of these people and events using terms they don’t use anymore. Words like “liberty,” “leave,” and “deck” pepper their conversation.
And they speak of subjects that they can share with a select few, namely, those who went through the same experience with them.
As Borras says; “One reason I’m looking forward to this reunion is because sometimes I wonder how the hell I survived what I did. I’m wondering how these other guys did too.”
O’Hara, who said he attended a reunion last year for another ship on which he served, said he is looking forward to the reunion for the “camaraderie”. It will be a group of men, doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, whatever, who, no matter what else they’ve done, have on thing in common. They were all Salt lake City Sailors.”