Monday, December 31, 2012

Battle of Murfreesboro at 150

On December 31, 1862, advancing forces under Union general William Rosecrans fought a pitched battle with Confederate general Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee on the outskirts of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Both generals formed plans of attack, but Bragg struck first, pulverizing the Union right flank with two veteran divisions. False reports indicating a Union retreat kept Bragg in place on January 1, but January 2 dawned with Rosecrans stubbornly holding his ground. Bragg ordered Gen. John Breckinridge and his division to charge the Union left late in the afternoon. Breckinridge’s men crossed an open field and nearly achieved a breakthrough, but massed artillery broke up the assault at the climactic moment. Although the battle to that point had been a tactical draw, the arrival of Union reinforcements made Bragg’s position untenable. He retreated on January 3, granting the North a valuable strategic victory in the middle of an otherwise dismal winter.

Source: Civil War Trust


My great grandfather Nathan R. Oakes was one of the combatants in this battle. To view my blog about him and the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in which he served, please visit:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Challenging repairs to the Pensacola

On today's date, my dad's ship, the USS Vestal, began emergency repairs to the heavy cruiser, USS Pensacola. The cruiser had received heavy torpedo damage during the Battle of Tassafaronga, off Guadalcanal, on November 30. The aft damage was so extensive that Pensacola's stern was barely attached to the rest of the ship,  and it swayed with the current. A few frames, some hull plating, and one propeller shaft were practically all that still held the aftermost section to the rest of the ship. Much of the damage was underwater. Vestal's commanding officer, W.T. Singer, would later recount, "Never had an AR (repair ship) been presented with such a task; no records on how it should best be done were available."

Only by trial and error, and utilizing previous experience, was the repair crew able to complete its enormous task. The hole was plugged and braced for stability, and compartments were sealed and pumped out. Three 7-ton propellers were pulled off to reduce drag. "One has to be something of an artificer," her commander recounted, "... to realize the problems that came up to do with this job, such as underwater welding and cutting, which was still a fairly new thing." The commander continues his report saying that repair crews even resorted to dynamite to jar one propeller loose and had to cut through the shaft of another. My father, 19-year old Frank Dolan, working as a diver on that shaft, later said: "I cut off one of the propeller shafts on the Pensacola and let it fall to the bottom.” Repairs were completed on January 7.

USS Vestal repairing USS Pensacola, December 1942
Emergency repairs to the Pensacola were completed, and the ship was readied for sailing to Pearl Harbor for permanent repairs 1 month later.

Battle damage to USS Pensacola
Close-up of damage area
Vestal's repairmen cutting away wreckage
Hole made by torpedo after wreckage is cleared away

After distinguished service throughout the remainder of the war, the Pensacola's last assignment was to participate in the nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946. The purpose of the testing was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on naval ships. Pensacola's final service was as the target ship. Surviving the tests she was she decommissioned that year. After completing radiological and structural studies on her hulk, she later was sunk off the Washington coast.

The USS Pensacola received 13 Battle Stars for her WWII service.

Sources: Naval History and Heritage Command home page; NavSource Online; USS Vestal War Diary, December 1942 & January 1943; Frank L. Dolan's Service Records and his oral account; Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"Holiday routine"

"Anchored Espiritu Santo Island, New Hebrides. Holiday routine."

From the War Diary of the USS Vestal, December 25, 1942

John Donne's Annunciation & Nativity

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
John Donne, 1572-1631

Monday, December 17, 2012

A bittersweet mile marker

Today marks my folks' wedding anniversary. Although Dad is no longer with us in this life, we share his hope that we will one day meet again. So happy to have Mom with us to remember Dad's lifeand theirs together for over 60 years. Their marriage is a beacon of hope and happiness that this life can only glimpse of that which to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pat's Students' Recital

Congratulations to my wife, Pat, and her students that performed in their Christmas recital this afternoon!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor 71 Years Ago: A sailor's first-hand account of that infamous day

My dad, Frank L. Dolan, was an 18-year old U.S. Navy Sailor aboard the auxiliary repair ship USS Vestal during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 71 years ago on today's date in 1941. I am reprinting the original post about his experience on that fateful day.


My dad, Frank Dolan, was a weldor on the repair ship USS Vestal, tied alongside the battleship USS Arizona, when the surprise Japanese attack came.* He remembered the events that unfolded at Pearl Harbor on this date in 1941 like this...
Sunday was "holiday routine"… a no-work day. The officers and men would ‘sleep-in,’ but not me. I was eager to get my ratings. So, after morning chow, I went to the foc’sle… which was an upper deck in the forward part of the ship, to do my studying… Noise! A loud noise! A loud, booming noise came! Then came the roar of airplanes. I looked over the starboard (right) side of the ship and saw planes—many planes. Some were overhead, but many were just a few feet above the water. They were launching what I thought were “dummy” torpedoes. "Neat, real neat!" I thought. But when the first one exploded against a battleship’s side, I thought some dumb American pilot dropped a real live torpedo by accident.
Japanese aerial photo of the attack 
Even as torpedoes were exploding on impact against the sides of the battleships, I told myself there must be some mistake. The planes were so close we could easily see the pilots. Then the red ball designation of the Japanese on the sides of the planes came into view. Immediately I was off the foc’csle down the port passageway aft on the main deck and onto the starboard side to watch. Again, I was not really believing what I was witnessing. More torpedo planes, and then came the dive bombers. I had no battle station as at this time we were at peace with Japan, and had only one 3-inch anti-aircraft gun, and a couple of Thompson machine guns on board. Our 5-inch broadside guns were for use against surface craft.
My next move was to head for the weld shop. To get there I had to go down a ladder through the carpenter shop and then amidships to the weld shop. No sooner had I got down the ladder when a bomb came through the carpenter shop hitting the ladder I had just come down. There were numerous casualties in the carpenter shop. One shipmate was decapitated. Immediately, I went to the weld shop. Half of the men there had been sleeping or were just awakening and were asking, "What was up?" The other men and I told them the Japs were here. I looked toward the small hatch opening that I had just come through to get to our shop. "Ski," a shipmate, had just come into the shop looking very pale and wobbly. We grabbed him and laid him on a cot, face-down, as we discovered that both cheeks of his backside were torn off and hardly any flesh remained. This was the result of the bomb that had come through the carpenter shop. In the meantime, another bomb hit the forward part of our ship on the starboard side near where I had been studying a few minutes earlier.
USS Arizona
Dad recalled that at about the time the second bomb hit the forward part of the Vestal, on the starboard side near where he had been studying a few minutes earlier, was when the Arizona exploded. While he was below decks at that moment, he did not then know what had happened, although it was a “shaking experience” for him. “When the Arizona blew up and was broken in two, my first thought from below deck was that our acetylene and oxygen cylinders, which were topside and near the great explosion, had blown up. Soon afterward, we learned that it was the Arizona. And, later on, with all of the burned survivors, we knew for sure what had happened.”

Amazingly, of the 400 men on the Vestal, only 6 were lost, although many were seriously injured. Among the many deeds of brave men, the Vestal’s captain, Cassin Young, received the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions that day. On the other hand, the losses to the Arizona were horrific. More than 1,100 Sailors and Marines still lie entombed within its sunken hull. Over 50 Sailors lie within the submerged Utah.

Dad recounted his experience of this “date which will live in infamy” in his narrative, Pearl Harbor: As I Remember.

* A profound experience from my childhood was to personally meet Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese commander who led the first attack wave on Pearl Harbor, and who immortalized the words, Tora, Tora, Tora. When I was about 10, my dad insisted that I go with him to a Youth for Christ meeting in San Diego, where this remarkable man and former enemy of the United States was speaking. Years after the Pearl Harbor attack, Fuchida became a Christian in a remarkable conversion to the Christian faith. I wrote about the experience in the post,  Meeting God's Samurai.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Repairs to the USS Curtiss

When Dad returned to Espiritu Santo from work on the Enterprise, one of the ships under repair was the USS Curtiss. This is at least the second time that crews from the Vestal did battle damage repair work on the Curtiss. Just a week after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Dad was temporarily transferred to the Curtiss, a seaplane tender, to assist with the emergency repairs so the severely damaged ship could safely return to the states for permanent restoration.

Now, in 1942 and into 1943, Curtiss is stationed at Nouméa, New Caledonia, and Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. While at Espiritu Santo she served as a flagship for Commander, Naval Air, South Pacific, then supported aircraft and repaired warships during the Guadalcanal and Central Solomons campaigns. Now, in need of urgent repairs herself, from December 2-9, she is attended to by crewmen from Vestal. Throughout her repairs, Curtiss continued to tend planes for the squadron that were searching for enemy submarines.

USS Curtiss, 1942
Source: NavSource Online

Launched in 1942, the USS Curtiss was one of the newer ships in the fleet. Curtiss will see service, often as a flagship, throughout the war in the Pacific. She was serving in Okinawa in June 1945, when a kamikaze ripped her hull and exploded on the third deck, killing 35 and wounding 21 of her crew. After the war, Curtiss participated in various assignments, including ferrying atom bombs for nuclear tests at Eniwetok in 1948 and again in 1956. She also saw action in the Korea War. The Curtiss was decommissioned in 1957, and sold for scrap in 1972.

The USS Curtiss received 7 Battle Stars for her WWII service.

Sources: Vestal War Diary, December 1942; Wikipedia

Dad rejoins his ship at Espiritu Santo

70 years ago on this date in 1942, having served as part of Vestal's temporary repair crews on the Enterprise during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, then returning via the South DakotaPrometheus, and Tryon, Dad finally rejoins his ship at the naval harbor in Espiritu Santo (Code Name: "Button").

The Vestal will spend the 12 months here completing repairs to battle-damaged ships from naval engagements in the Solomons in late 1942 and early 1943. Some of the ships awaiting urgent repairs included the heavy cruiser Pensacola, light cruiser Helena, submarine Argonaut, carrier Enterprise, escort carrier Nassau, destroyers Southard, MeadeAnderson, and Ellet, seaplane tender Curtis, and subchaser PC-477. A host of other ships received routine repairs. And this was just in the month of December!

But tomorrow, exactly 1 year since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entrance into WWII, Dad will return to the rhythm and routine of repairing damaged ships of the fleet. Business as usual.

Sources: Frank L. Dolan's Service Records; USS Vestal War Diary, December 1942