Sunday, June 30, 2013

June's Routine Repairs

After its return on June 7, 1943, to Espiritu Santo from Sydney, Australia, my dad's ship, Vestal, got back to a busy schedule of repairing various vessels of the fleet. The ship tackled numerous "routine not alongside repairs" to: Patapsco, Phelps, Southern Seas, McKean, PC-479, YP-515, HMNZS Leander, SC-699, Somelsby, Skylark, and the drydock YFD-21, in addition to frequent shop jobs for ships and base activities.

Also during these 3 weeks the Vestal's crew labored under enemy attacks, going to general quarters at least 4 times.

Source: USS Vestal War Diary,  June 1943

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Children of the Confederacy at the Texas State Capital

Last month, Pat accompanied several choirs from the Christian Choral Society in the Texas State Capital rotunda. The sound that permeated this beautiful space was astonishing.

Since the music filled even the adjoining hallways, I was able to do a little exploring into some of the nooks and crannies of this handsome structure. One of my surprising discoveries was this plaque, mounted just off the main floor rotunda.

Photo by Mark Dolan May 2014

Most visitors that morning passed by without noticing, which probably happens hundreds of times every day. But when I stopped to take this picture, the action caused many after me to stop and read the inscription. I stood back and watched as this went on for several minutes, much like freeway traffic that slows down at the spot long after the accident has been cleared. I wonder what they thought.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A strange sight at Espiritu Santo, 1943

Although I don't remember Dad ever mentioning it, he must have witnessed a curious sight over a few days in June 1943: A captured Japanese midget sub. On today's date, the USS Ortolan, a former minesweeper converted to a submarine rescue ship, arrived with the recovered enemy midget sub. Ortolan moored alongside the USS McKean, which was tied to the Vestal while undergoing repairs at Espiritu Santo.

Ortolan's Divers and crewmen securing sub
Source: Library of Congress
On May 7, the Ortolan recovered the scuttled "Type-A" midget sub-marine* off the northern coast of Guadalcanal, in Visale Bay. She towed the sub to Kukum Bay, Guadalcanal. Then on this date, she delivered the mini-sub to port authorities at Espiritu Santo, which is where Vestal's crew members got an up-close look.

50 Type-A's were built by Japan for use by the Imperial Navy during the war. Five of these 2-man midgets were used in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Eight of them were launched in the Guadalcanal Campaign. Three were captured after the attack on Sydney Harbor, Australia on May 30. Other mini-subs were recovered in Guam, Guadalcanal, and Kiska Island. However, most of the remaining 50 midgets are unaccounted for.

The Japanese launched 8 mini-sub missions during the Guadalcanal Campaign. The 46-ton, 24-foot midget subs were each armed with two 450 mm torpedoes in muzzle-loading tubes, 1 above the other on the port bow. The midgets were brought underwater “piggy-back” style on fleet I-class submarines and then deployed at night for attacks.

One of the U.S. ships torpedoed by a Japanese midget attack during the Guadalcanal Campaign was the cargo ship, USS Alchiba. The ship was beached in Tenaru Bay after the first hit on November 28, 1942, and then had the misfortune of being torpedoed a second time by another mini-sub. Alchiba was later repaired by Dad's ship, Vestal, and returned to war service.

Overall, the Japanese mini-sub operation netted poor results and only minimally disrupted the American naval operations at Guadalcanal.

USS Ortolan's crew standing on hull of raised midget sub
Source: Library of Congress

The mini-sub salvaged by Ortolan at Guadalcanal was displayed as part of a war bond effort in 1943-1944. It was brought to the Historic Ship Nautilus & Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut, where it has remained. It is only one of 5 Type-A midgets on display in the world. Another, one from the Pearl Harbor attack, is on display at the National Museum of the Pacific War, nearby in Fredericksburg, Texas.

*There is an engaging interactive 3-D model of Japan's WWII mini-sub produced by NOVA.

Sources: USS Vestal War Diary, June 1943; USS Ortolan War Diary, April-June, 1943; Midget Submarines in the Solomon Islands;

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Corn. It's what's for dinner.

I'm blessed again this year with a bountiful vegetable garden. So far we've frozen bags of beans, eaten lots of squash, and enjoyed Pat's special recipe for black berry cobbler! And tonight, our favorite: fresh "Peaches & Cream" corn-on-the-cobYum!

In a few days, we'll also be enjoying some of Pat's spicy carrots that she prepared this afternoon. Heirloom tomatoes are just coming on strong, and there's lots more goodies to come over the next weeks.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Our Marine in the Philippines

Josh with a Philippine soldier who wanted a picture with an American Marine.

Having served in several combat tours as an engineer in both Iraq and Afghanistan, our son, Josh, has had a much different assignment recently, taking several trips with the Marines to a remote barangay in the Philippines. One of his photos there was published on the official Marines website.

I was surprised, as many are, to learn of the extensive civil affairs (CA) work that the military does around the world, assessing needs for critical infrastructure projects such as roads, clinics, schools, power plants, water treatment facilities, and the like. Military units work with civil authorities and civilian populations to lessen the impact of military operations on them during peace and conflict. CA units act as liaisons between the civilian inhabitants of a war zone or disaster area and the military presence, keeping informed of the status of the civilian populace as well as bringing assistance to locals by either coordinating military operations with government contractors or directly distributing aid and supplies.

One of Josh's projects involved work at the Shepherd of the Hills Children's Foundation. Other community relations work included building a water tower, doing an extensive medical capability assessment, as well as other community service projects. Forever the master of understatement, we seldom learn as much from Josh as we would wish, but we were heartened to receive this news about this recent and fascinating assignment.

The chicken-looking thing was dinner 1 day-old chicken.
Not used to having my food look at me, but it wasn't too bad actually.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sailing from Sydney

With its own repairs complete, and a new paint job, my dad's ship, Vestal, sailed on this date in 1943, from Sydney, Australia, to return to work at Espiritu Santo. It will arrive at that harbor on June 7. It sailed with a convoy accompanied by destroyers O'Bannon and Radford, which formed an anti-submarine screen en route. For the next 6 days the convoy will zigzag its way across the ocean. Vestal will go to general quarters several times, but no incidents were reported.

Almost immediately upon arriving at Espiritu Santo, Vestal will begin work on ships of the fleet waiting there for repairs.

Source: USS Vestal War Diary, June 1943