Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day in Georgetown, TX

I have a weakness for Memorial Day ceremonies. Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country is important to me.

Fort Rosecrans on Point Loma, overlooking the harbor
For nearly 30 years, Pat and I have made it our practice to attend services and visit gravesites of fallen warriors. Our pastor in California got us hooked years ago. Each year, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, our church would conduct an outdoor service on the beautiful grounds of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma. The cemetery is situated on the end of the peninsula, which separates the Pacific Ocean from San Diego Harbor, which it overlooks. The view is stunning. Service personnel, past and present, would always attend the service in uniform, our choir would perform, and our pastor always preached. At the conclusion of the service, most of us would wander through the cemetery, reading headstones and gazing at the monuments.

Pat and I moved from San Diego years ago, but I hear the practice of our former congregation continues. I'm glad. Since we were there, many of us have parented young Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen of our own. And, over the years, just as many of us have buried fathers and mothers who served in their country in their generation, the Greatest Generation, as is known.

Maintaining our family's tradition, today, I attended the service in our present home of Georgetown, Texas. A multitude from Georgetown and the greater Austin area showed up to pay tribute to all members of the military who have given their lives. The speakers included U.S. Rep. John Carter, and Army Sgt. Maj. Raymond F. Chandler III, the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, who I was able to meet briefly after the service (my apologies to my Marine son, Josh!).

Memorial service at Georgetown-Williamson County Veterans Memorial Plaza
Georgetown, Texas

The most moving moment for me was when the WWII vets were asked to stand and be acknowledged. There were quite a few who stood up. One was seated a few feet in front of me, who I learned in the few minutes we talked afterward, served on the destroyer, USS Newcomb. It was one of many vessels my dad's ship, Vestal, worked on after the Newcomb received severe damage in the Battle of Okinawa. Although Dad had been transferred to another repair ship by that point in the war, this Navy vet had been present in several other naval actions in which Dad was also involved.

All in all, it was a wonderful morning. I'm so glad I went.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On leave in Sydney

On today's date in 1943, my dad's ship, Vestal, sailed from Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, to Sydney, Australia. The ship will arrive on May 22nd, and dock at Cockatoo Island. On the 24th, the ship will enter drydock for hull cleaning, repairs, and painting.

While there was work to be completed onboardeveryone, from the captiain to the lowliest sailor had to participate in the hull cleaningDad did get to enjoy liberty in Sydney, his first time in Australia. With 3 other shipmates, he romped through town for several days. This was also the first time the buddies had seen a real city in 2 years. Dad wrote letters home and even remembered his mother back in San Diego with a gift to her of an Australian sheepskin rug.

The Vestal will remain in Sydney until June 2, when it will sail on a return trip to Espiritu Santo, arriving there on June 7.

Source: USS Vestal War Diary, May & June 1943; Frank L. Dolan's personal account

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Underway for Sydney

On today's date in 1943, my dad's ship, Vestal, sailed from Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, to Sydney, Australia. The ship will arrive there on May 22, docking at Cockatoo Island. On the 24th, she will enter drydock for hull cleaning, painting, and repairsand some well-deserved leave time for its weary crew!

Vestal sailed with Commander Task Unit 36.7.2 (Commander Destroyer Division 41), accompanied by destroyers O'Bannon and Radford, which formed an anti-submarine screen. For the next 6 days the convoy will take a standard zig-zagging course to its destination. Vestal will go to general quarters several times, but without serious incident.

Source: USS Vestal War Diary, May 1943

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May's routine repairs

While stationed in Espiritu Santo during the first half of the month of May 1943, in addition to major repairs to Alchiba, the overhaul of YP-515 and YAG-24, and "voyage repairs" on the YO-144, Dad's ship, Vestal, tackled numerous "routine not alongside repairs" to various vessels of the fleet. In relative order of service and repair, these ships included: Bougainville, Tappahannock, Helena, ARD 5, Nashville, PC-477, plus the Shore Station and various shop jobs on ships in the harbor.

On May 16, Vestal will sail to Sydney, Australia. It will arrive on May 22, and dock at Cockatoo Island in Sydney. On the 24th, the ship will enter drydock for hull cleaning, painting, and repairs.

Source: USS Vestal War Diary, May 1943

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Designated Diver, Second Class

On this date in 1943, my dad, Frank Dolan, already a Metalsmith, First Class (M1c), was designated as Diver, Second Class. Actually, he qualified as a diver a few weeks before (4/21/43). However, since his repair ship, Vestal, had a full allowance of divers at that time, officially he was not detailed to any diving duties until today's date.

Source: Frank L Dolan's Service Records

Friday, May 3, 2013

Work on the USS Helena

On today's date in 1943, crews from Dad's ship began working on the light cruiser, USS Helena, which was moored to its port side. Vestal will do various repairs, including the installation of new radar, until the 10th.

What neither crews of these 2 ships could have known, was that Helena had only a couple of months to live.

Launched in 1939, Helena was later present at Pearl Harbor during the surprise Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. When the attack came, Helena was in the berth normally assigned to the battleship Pennsylvania, thus becoming a prime target for the Japanese planes. Although hit by a torpedo, the ship was able to fire back at the attacking planes, while at the same time her crews effected damage control to keep her from sinking. After preliminary repairs at Pearl, Helena steamed to the West Coast for permanent repairs.

In 1942, Helena returned to action in the South Pacific. In September and October, she was part of the task force supporting transports carrying Marine reinforcements to Guadalcanal. In November, Helena participated in the climactic Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, as she escorted supply ships from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal under an enemy air attack. Helena received only minor damage in the night action of November 13 when U.S. ships turned back the enemy and prevented an attack that would have been disastrous to the Marine troops ashore. However, 2 other ships received major damage, including the flagship USS San Francisco* and the Juneau.** Helena led the damaged ships back to Espiritu Santo.

Helena continued to operate in the Guadalcanal area in early 1943. After overhaul work in Sydney in March, Helena resumed operations out of Espiritu Santo. It was during this period (May) that Vestal installed Helena's radar.

In July, the Allies began the process of launching their next offensive in the Solomon Islands, having just landed troops on the island of Rendova as the first step to seizing the major Japanese airstrip on New Georgia Island. Helena was part the force escorting the transports carrying the initial landing parties. The ship moved into Kula Gulf just before midnight on July 4th and began a bombardment of the Kolombangara shore.

The troops were landed successfully by dawn on the 5th, but in the afternoon, word came that an enemy naval force was approaching. Helena's group turned north to meet it. By midnight, the Allied ships were off the northwest corner of New Georgia, confronted by 10 enemy ships, and the Battle of Kula Gulf began. Flashes from Helena's fire made her a target for the enemy. Within a few minutes of the battle, she was hit by a torpedo. Then moments later, she was struck by 2 more. The ship flooded rapidly, broke up, and sank. Of the nearly 900 men on board, 168 perished. Many of the survivors had to evade the enemy in the water and on small rescue boats. Those reaching land were forced to take refuge in the jungle to escape Japanese patrols. It wasn't until 10 days later the last survivors were finally rescued.

USS Helena
Source: NavSource Online

The USS Helena was the first ship to receive the Navy Unit Commendation for her actions in the Battles of Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal, and Kula Gulf. The ship also earned 7 Battle Stars for her WWII service.

* The San Francisco took a direct hit to the bridge, killing Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan and Captain Cassin Young, along with almost all of the bridge officers. Capt. Young was the commander of Dad's ship, Vestal, during the attack on Pearl Harbor the year before. For that action, he received the Medal of Honor. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his part in the Guadalcanal Campaign.

** En route to Espiritu Santo for emergency repairs, the Juneau was torpedoed and lost. About 100 survived the ship's destruction, although all but 10 died in the days afterward in the sea. Among the lost were the famous 5 Sullivan Brothers. Two (and maybe 3) of the brothers apparently survived the sinking, only to die in the water with other survivors from exposure to the elements and shark attacks.

Sources: USS Helena War Diary, November 1942, May 1943; After-Action report of USS Helena, July 30, 1943; USS Vestal War Diary, May 1943; Wikipedia