Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fall means pecan season has arrived!

The Berry Springs Park & Preserve is certainly one of the best-kept secrets in the area (Maybe I should just keep quiet about this!) As we've done in previous years, Pat and I spent a beautiful afternoon today gathering pecans—over 10 pounds. Our backs are a little sore from picking these beauties off the ground, but it was well worth the effort!

Named for John Berry who settled the land in 1846 (he is buried in a small family cemetery in the park), many of his original farm buildings are still standingalong with a pond and new hiking trailsamong the park's beautifully maintained 300 acres. And there are acres and acres of majestic, ancient pecan trees that have been preserved in long stately rows. The park service keeps the grounds under the trees mowedperfect for collecting the fallen nuts.

We've got a little work ahead of us, but as soon as we get this pile shelled and in the freezer, we're definitely going to make a return trip!

Friday, September 21, 2012

POW/MIA Recognition Day

My wife put me on to this excellent article about this Recognition Day,* established by Congress in 1979, to remember our POWs and MIAs:

Incredibly, a total of 83,417 GIs are still missing in action:
  • 73,681 from World War II
  • 7,947 from the Korean War
  • 126 from Cold War actions
  • 1,657 from the Vietnam War
  • 6 from the war with Iraq and related conflicts.
*Takes place annually in the United States on the third Friday in September

Pvt. Nathan Oakes turns 17

150 years ago, on today's date in 1862, my great grandfather, Nathan R. Oakes, a private in the Confederate The Army of Tennessee, turned 17 years of age. Having enlisted earlier in March, following the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, Pvt. Oakes served the last part of his 16th year in the newly formed 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, participating in various skirmishes and maneuvers in and around Corinth, Mississippi. In just the past few days, however, he along with nearly 30,000 other troops, underwent an arduous rail transfer from Tupelo, Mississippi to Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is but a week away from his first real military campaign to Kentucky. And on his birthday today, Gen. Bragg is moving the army to a position above Chattanooga in preparation for the Kentucky invasion.

Great Grandfather Oakes after the war

To view my blog about Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes and the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, please visit:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Work on the North Carolina

While at Tongatabu, in the Tonga Islands, 3 officers and 29 crewmen from my dad's repair ship began emergency repairs on this date to the battleship North Carolina, one of several of her repairs of this grand ship. This time, on September 15th, while sailing with the Hornet, North Carolina was torpedoed 20 feet below her waterline.

This understated entry from the War Diary of the USS North Carolina at Tongatabu, expresses the kind of grim work encountered by the crew: "Anchored. Bodies of four men killed in torpedo attack were buried ashore today. Repair teams from VESTAL (AR 4) made temporary repairs for transit to Pearl Harbor.” Two others killed in the torpedo attack were buried at sea.

The USS North Carolina was launched in 1940, the first new US battleship to enter WWII.  She took part in every major naval offensive in the Pacific Theater, becoming the most decorated battleship in the war, earning 15 Battle Stars. She helped close the war with Japan by participating in its bombardment. The ship also contributed in the preliminary occupation of Japan at the close of the war. North Carolina was decommissioned in 1947. In 1961, she was purchased by the state of North Carolina, in large part due to the fundraising efforts of school children. The ship now rests in Wilmington, where it memorializes North Carolinians from all branches of the military who gave their lives in military service during World War II. North Carolina was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Source: NavSource Online; USS North Carolina War Diary, August 1942; Wikipedia

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Repairs to the USS Barnett

Attack transport ships were among the many vessels Dad's repair ship, Vestal, worked on while at Nuku'alofa Harbor in Tongatabu in 1942. In fact, there were several attack transports at Tonga, including the Barnett, Hunter Liggett, Neville, President Jackson, Crescent City, American Legion, Heywood, and Zeilin. Each saw action in "Operation Watchtower" or the Guadalcanal Campaign from August 1942 through February 1943.

In the early 1940s, the U.S. Navy expanded to meet the threat of war. A number of civilian passenger ships and freighters were converted to military transports. Some were outfitted to handle landing craft for amphibious assaults, and in 1942, these became a separate category of warship, the attack transport.

The USS Barnett was one of these attack transports. Launched in 1928 as a passenger steamer, it was purchased by the Navy and recommissioned in 1940. Following the Battle of the Coral Sea in  May 1942, Barnett transported survivors to the states. On her return trip, she carried men of the 1st Marines, eventually headed to the Battle of Guadalcanal in late July, arriving on August 7. In the battle on the 8th, the ship was damaged by a crashing enemy bomber. On the 9th, Barnett sailed with 860 survivors of ships sunk at the Battle of Savo Island. It was today's date in 1942, that she stopped at Tonga for repairs by the Vestal, completing repairs on the 26th.  She was back for additional repairs from October 15-21. Later in October, after transporting Marines from Tonga to Guadalcanal, Barnett spent the month of November 1942 shuttling troops and supplies between Tulagi and Guadalcanal.

The USS Barnett will serve with distinction until war's end, earning 7 Battle Stars for her service. In 1946, Barnett was struck from the Naval Vessel Register, then sold and refitted for merchant service in 1948.

USS Barnett in 1943
Source: NavSource Online

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Repairs to the South Dakota

Work on the USS South Dakota was one of the more difficult challenges for Vestal's repair force. The battleship had run aground on an uncharted reef. Vestal's divers began on September 6, checking the ship's seams. They discovered a series of splits extending along 150 feet of the ship's bottom. On September 8, 1942, Vestal's repair crew, along with men of the battleship, managed to repair the damage well enough to allow the ship to return stateside for permanent repairs.

Dad worked with Vestal's 6-man diving crew on South Dakota. However, he did no actual diving because he wasn't certified for that kind of work until April.

USS South Dakota
Source: NavSource Online

The USS South Dakota was launched in 1939. She earned 13 Battle Stars in war action during 2 tours in the Pacific Theater and 1 tour with the British Home Fleet. She participated in the last strike against Japan in the war, entering Tokyo Bay in late August 1945, after Japan's capitulation. In 1947, South Dakota was assigned to the Reserve Fleet and placed out of commission. In 1962, she was sold as scrap. Memorabilia and parts of the ship are displayed at the USS South Dakota Battleship Memorial in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sources: US Fast Battleships 1936-47: The North Carolina and South Dakota, Lawrence Burr; Frank L. Dolan's oral account

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Repairs to the Saratoga

While at Tonga, 4 officers and 25 crewmen from my dad's repair ship, USS Vestal, began emergency repairs on the carrier Saratoga, on today's date in 1942. At the same time, 5 destroyers also were tied alongside the Vestal awaiting urgent repairs. It wasn't unusual for the repair ship to work on multiple vessels at one time.

The Saratoga put into Tongatabu after being torpedoed on August 31. Vestal's divers combined forces with the USS Navajo to inspect the damage and later trim and brace the hole. Dad assisted the divers but was not yet qualified to dive. He worked in the flooded fireroom pumping out the water and also helped to pour tons of cement in the hole to patch the damaged area. Within 12 days of her arrival at Tongatabu, Saratoga was able to return to the United States for permanent repairs. This won't be the only time the Vestal will work on Saratoga. In September of 1943, she will visit the Vestal in Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides.

USS Saratoga underway to Pearl Harbor for permanent repairs, Sept. 17, 1942
Source: NavSource Online
Sources: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, T-V; USS Vestal War Diary, September 1942; Frank L. Dolan's oral account

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Brief encounter with the Juneau

The light cruiser USS Juneau reported that it received various provisions and supplies from my dad's ship, Vestal, stationed at Tongatabu on this date in 1942.

Sadly, the Juneau will meet with a tragic end in only a couple of months. On November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Juneau was torpedoed and sunk. The now famous 5 Sullivan Brothers were among those lost.

The Sullivans enlisted in the U.S. Navy on January 3, 1942, with the stipulation that they serve together. The Navy had a policy of separating siblings, but this was not strictly enforced. All 5 were assigned to the Juneau.

After being struck by a torpedo during the battle, the cruiser was forced to leave, along with other damaged ships, for the base at Espiritu Santo. However, Juneau was struck again by another torpedo, this time from an enemy submarine. Hit in its ammunition magazine, the ship exploded and quickly sank. Not believing that anyone could have survived the catastrophic explosion, and unwilling to expose the battle-damaged force to further attacks, the ships were ordered to continue on to Espiritu Santo.

In the confusion, it was days later that Allied headquarters finally sent aircraft to search for possible survivors. By now, the men in the water, many of whom were seriously wounded in the explosion, were exposed to the elements, hunger, thirst, and repeated shark attacks. Three of Sullivan brothers had died instantly in the explosion. Two others survived in the water but drowned in the first couple of days. Only 10 of Juneau's 692-member crew survived to be rescued from the water 8 days later. But the Sullivans were lost.

Due to wartime security, the brothers' parents were not notified of their deaths until January 12, 1943. Navy personnel met the parents at their door with the message, "I have some news for you about your boys." "Which one?" asked the father. "I'm sorry," the officer replied. "All five." Incredibly, the parents would go on to make speaking appearances on behalf of the war effort.

To commemorate these brave sailors, in February 1943, the destroyer Putnam, then under construction at San Francisco, was renamed USS The Sullivans. And in 1944, a film was released, poignantly recounting the life and sacrifice of the "Fighting Sullivans."

As a consequence of the tragic loss of the Sullivan brothers, the war department adopted the "Sole Survivor" policy, whereby a surviving family member wishing to be sent home may apply for a release from service.

Albert, Francis, George, Joseph and Madison Sullivan on board the USS Juneau 
Source: Naval Historical Center

Sources: USS Juneau War Diary, September 1942; Navy Department Press Release, October 26, 1944; Wikipedia