Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Battle of Franklin at 150

Some of the grimmest and most vicious fighting of the War Between the States took place on today's date in 1864, in the village of Franklin, Tennessee.

Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood had a plan to defeat Union Gen. John Schofield’s army outside of Spring Hill on the 29th. However, the Federals were able to escape under cover of darkness. But now, Hood believed that he was presented another opportunity while the Federal army was waiting to cross the Harpeth River at Franklin. Determined not to let his enemy get away again, Hood unleashed a daring but foolish frontal assault against the entrenched Federal defenders. Although managing to break through a part of the Union's center in vicious hand-to-hand fighting, Hood’s forces were driven back with heavy losses. The Battle of Franklin cost Hood 1,750 killed and 5,800 wounded. Among the Confederate dead were 6 generals, including the commander of my great grandfather's division, Patrick Cleburne.

The battle was the bloodiest 5 hours of the war, and its result hastened the doom of the Confederacy.


To follow my blog about my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, and the
32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in which he served in the Army of Tennessee,

Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes, cir. 1889 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The American Tradition of Thanksgiving Proclamations

U.S. Presidents have been making proclamations of thanksgiving since our first president, George Washington, in 1789. Many of these proclamations are quite famous and compelling, like Abraham Lincoln's during the Civil War, or Franklin D. Roosevelt's during WWII. Other presidents, in war and in peace, have added their own pronouncements, a tradition that continues through Barack Obama.

But officially the tradition precedes even our first president. In 1777, the Continental Congress, during the War for American Independence, issued its first Thanksgiving Proclamation and continued the custom through 1784.

Recently, I read through all of these Congressional Proclamations. The second one of 1778 was especially memorable:
It having pleased Almighty God, through the course of the present year, to bestow great and manifold mercies on the people of these United States; and it being the indispensable duty of all men gratefully to acknowledge their obligations to Him for benefits received: 
Resolved, That it be, and hereby is recommended to the legislative or executive authority of each of the said states, to appoint Wednesday, the 30th day of December next, to be observed as a day of public thanksgiving and praise, that all the people may, with united hearts, on that day, express a just sense of his unmerited favors; particularly in that it hath pleased him, by his overruling providence, to support us in a just and necessary war, for the defense of our rights and liberties, by affording us seasonable supplies for our armies, by disposing the heart of a powerful monarch [i.e., King Louis XVI of France] to enter into alliance with us, and aid our cause; by defeating the councils and evil designs of our enemies, and giving us victory over their troops; and, by the continuance of that union among these states, which, by his blessing, will be their future strength and glory. 
And it is further recommended, that, together with devout thanksgiving, may be joined a penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior; so that, under the smiles of Heaven, our public councils may be directed, our arms by land and sea prospered, our liberty and independence secured, our schools and seminaries of learning flourish, our trade be revived, our husbandry and manufactures encreased, and the hearts of all impressed with undissembled piety, with benevolence and zeal for the public good. 
And it is also recommended, that recreations unsuitable to the purpose of such a solemnity may be omitted on that day. 
Done in Congress, this 17th day of November, 1778, and in the third year of the independence of the United States of America.
It is instructive to trace the development of Thanksgiving proclamations throughout our history.* From the start until well into the 20th century, American leaders understood that the true object of all our thanksgiving is Almighty God. Praise was offered to him for his providence and blessing in the affairs of the American people. And until recent history, American leadership also acknowledged that God's special blessing was connected to his mercies of salvation from sin and acts of repentance on the part of his people.

In modern presidential proclamations, it is hard to find even an oblique mention of a personal God, let alone that he should be the object of our thanks and deserving of our praise. And don't even hope to find any reference to our dependence upon him for salvation from sin or our need to seek his gracious pardon, which faith so permeated our American forebearers.

It would be prudent for us today to reflect on Congress's second Thanksgiving Proclamation (or any of them), and join with our wise and esteemed forefathers in
penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior; so that, under the smiles of Heaven, our public councils may be directed, our arms by land and sea prospered, our liberty and independence secured, our schools and seminaries of learning flourish, our trade be revived, our husbandry and manufactures encreased, and the hearts of all impressed with undissembled piety, with benevolence and zeal for the public good.

*The Pilgrim Hall Museum website has generously posted all the Thanksgiving Proclamations through 2012. They are worthwhile and enriching readings.

Monday, November 24, 2014

National Thanksgiving Day, 1944

On today's date in 1944, Dad's ship, the USS Hector, spent another holiday far from home. For Hector's crew, work continued on the battle damaged Houston, in addition to the USS Wintle, and probably other ships anchored in the Ulithi lagoon in the Caroline Islands.

But at some point on this date, the crew enjoyed a festive Thanksgiving turkey feast provided by the talented members of the cook's staff. The USS Hector (AR-7) Association has been kind enough to post a copy of the Thanksgiving menu for the ship for this date.

USS Hector Thanksgiving Day menu cover, 1944


Proclamation 2629 - Thanksgiving Day, 1944

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

In this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule, it is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our allies, to His children in other lands.

For the preservation of our way of life from the threat of destruction; for the unity of spirit which has kept our Nation strong; for our abiding faith in freedom; and for the promise of an enduring peace, we should lift up our hearts in thanksgiving.

For the harvest that has sustained us and, in its fullness, brought succor to other peoples; for the bounty of our soil, which has produced the sinews of war for the protection of our liberties; and for a multitude of private blessings, known only in our hearts, we should give united thanks to God.

To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas. Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved.

Now, Therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, in consonance with the joint resolution of the Congress approved December 26, 1941, do hereby proclaim Thursday the twenty-third day of November 1944 a day of national thanksgiving; and I call upon the people of the United States to observe it by bending every effort to hasten the day of final victory and by offering to God our devout gratitude for His goodness to us and to our fellow men.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this first day of November in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-four and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixty-ninth.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Repairs to USS Wintle

In November of 1944, crews from my dad's repair ship, Hector, performed some work on the destroyer escort, USS WintleWintle had developed evaporator and other mechanical problems while performing patrol and escort duties in the Palau Islands, and these issues needed attention.

Arriving at Ulithi on the 16th, Wintle was assigned to the destroyer tender USS Cascade,* but quickly learned that other ships rated a higher priority for service and repair. Some jobs that could be carried manually to the Cascade were tended to.

Finally on today's date in 1944—Thanksgiving Day in the Carolines—Wintle was taken into the drydock ARD-15Hector repaired her sonar equipment, while crews from the 3 ships mended the rudders and repainted the hull's bottom.

Wintle's repairs were completed by the 26th, and the next day she was back in service escorting a cargo ship to Guam.

USS Wintle

The USS Wintle was launched in February 1943. She safely escorted numerous oilers, cargo ships, and convoys, supported the Invasion of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, performed search and rescue, and engaged in anti-submarine warfare. The ship served her entire career in war service in the Pacific. She was decommissioned in November 1945, and sold for scrap in 1947. The USS Wintle distinguished herself during the war by earning 3 battle stars.

*Within a month, the USS Cascade, will become the scene of a naval court of inquiry to investigate the loss of 3 ships and almost 800 men in Typhoon Cobra, which struck Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet in the Philippine Sea on December 18, 1944. Among other high ranking admirals, will be the commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester A. Nimitz.

Sources: USS Wintle War Diary, November 1944; Destroyer Escort USS Wintle DE-25 Home Page; Wikipedia

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Human torpedo attack at Ulithi

Throughout the month of November in 1944, my dad's repair ship, USS Hector, continued its extensive repair work on USS Houston for combat damage received earlier in October. So far the work had been hampered by bad weather, the most serious of which was a typhoon that hit the area from November 6th to the 8th.

Back on the repair job early on today's date in 1944, Hector's crew heard a huge explosion and saw fire and billowing black smoke from another ship anchored in the lagoon. It was the fleet oiler, USS Mississinewa, just attacked by a human torpedo, a Japanese suicide mini-submarine called a "Kaiten."

Earlier that morning 2 enemy tender submarines near Ulithi, I-36 an I-47, launched 4 mini-subs toward the anchored fleet.* After the attack on the Mississinewa, U.S. destroyers began dropping depth charges throughout the anchorage. The Case rammed 1 in the early morning hours. At 6:25 the cruiser Mobile reported that a torpedo had passed under its bow. The destroyer escorts Rall, Halloran, and Weaver attacked and sank a mini-sub.

Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

The Hector's Log reported that it was in "Condition One" from the time of the attack until after 2 PM. The crew manned its guns, and boats were launched to patrol the water around the vessels. No contact was made, but sailors witnessed 2 underwater explosions in the atoll, which indicated the presence of additional torpedoes.

The sinking Mississinewa, November 20, 1944
She was the first ever victim of a Japanese human torpedo attack.
Source: National Archives

The explosion on the Mississinewa had ignited thousands of gallons of diesel and aviation fuel. Flames spread forward to the magazine, which caused a heavier explosion than the first. Nearby ships sent boats to rescue many of the men who escaped into the flaming waters, but after burning for several hours, the ship rolled over and sank to the bottom of the lagoon, taking 60 crewmen with her to her grave.

Kaiten Type 1
Source: Wikimedia Commons
* The Kaiten Type 1, was essentially a modified, 48-foot long torpedo, loaded with explosives, and controlled by a single man sealed inside. Once ensconced within, the pilot could not unlock the hatches. It was a 1-way mission.

Five of these suicide torpedoes were launched on Ulithi that morning from 2 subs lurking outside the lagoon. The I-47 launched her Kaitens, but none was successful in hitting a target. Three of the manned torpedoes on I-36 were unable to launch due to mechanical problems, but the remaining one successfully struck the Mississinewa with catastrophic results. This won't be the last time that the I-36 will launch a similar attack on Ulithi.

Sources: USS Hector AR7- Ship’s Log (WWII); USS Hector War Diary Nov 1944; Pacific Wrecks

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

2 Special Vets

My life is framed by 2 combat vets of whom I am very proud. This Veterans Day I remember my dad, Frank Dolan, and also my youngest son, Josh. I've blogged about each from time to time: My dad, a WWII vet and Pearl Harbor Survivor, and my son, a veteran of the wars of his own generation—one tour in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan. Today is special for Josh and for our family because, after 8 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps, this is his first Veterans Day as a newly minted vet himself.

Josh and his grandparents, 2008

It's an honor to be connected to both of these men, perhaps even more so because I did not serve (I feel more than a twinge of regret for taking a college deferment instead of serving during the Vietnam era). Instead, these volunteers answered the call of duty knowing that combat service lay ahead for them both. Each saw their own wars up close and were profoundly shaped by what they experienced.

My dad is no longer with us having passed away during Josh's first tour in Afghanistan. Although Dad was Navy all the way, nevertheless he was wholly proud of his Marine grandson! Their mutual experience of military service created a special bond between them that others in the family could not in the same way appreciate.

My deepest gratitude to them and everyone else who served. Happy Veterans Day, Dad and Josh, and all who answered the call of service to our country!