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The Short Life of a Valiant Ship

The Short Life of a Valiant Ship

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The Short Life of a Valiant Ship

5/5 (1 valutazione)
112 pagine
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Mar 27, 2011


On October 15, 1942 the destroyer USS Meredith, escorting the tug USS Vireo, towing a barge loaded with fuel and ammunition desperately needed by the troops on Guadalcanal, was attacked by Japanese aircraft carrier planes. When the attack seemed imminent, the crew of the lightly armed Vireo was transferred to the destroyer. Overwhelmed by the plane’s bombs and torpedoes, the Meredith sank within minutes. The men who survived the assault floated in the oil-coated ocean for four days, enduring strafing by Japanese planes, dehydration, and the pain of infected wounds and burns. They watched helplessly while their comrades died or drowned or were devoured by sharks. Only ninety-six of the 329 crewmen of both ships, survived to be rescued.
Although the saga is little more than a footnote in official Naval reports of World War II, the dramatic story as told by the survivors deserves to be heard by a wider audience. In addition to the extended families of the ships’ crewmembers, and to readers of action-adventure stories, the narrative will be of particular interest to maritime historians, to the 25,000 members of The National Association of Destroyer Veterans, and to the thousands of men and women who have served or are serving in ships of all types.

Mar 27, 2011

Informazioni sull'autore

Barry Friedman holds the Jacob D. Fuchsberg Chair at the New York University School of Law. He is a constitutional lawyer and has litigated cases involving abortion, the death penalty, and free speech. He lives in New York City.

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The Short Life of a Valiant Ship - Barry Friedman



In March 1944, while the destroyer USS Russell was at the Bremerton, Washington Navy Yard for overhaul and repairs, a Chief Quartermaster reported for duty.

Thirty-year-old Robert Robinson, who had joined the Navy in 1934, was halfway through his second six-year enlistment. The most striking feature of Chief Robinson was a full, black beard. Above it was a pair of piercing, dark-brown eyes. As Medical Officer of Russell I received his health record and reviewing it, found it skimpy for a man who had had ten years of Naval service. With a noncommittal shrug, Robby explained that his original record rested on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near Guadalcanal in the rusting hull of the USS Meredith.

I watched as Robby went about his duties quietly aboard the Russell. In a few months he had raised the level of efficiency, conduct, and morale of each man in the bridge detail. Our skipper, Lieutenant Commander Lewis R. Miller, himself a hard task master, was so impressed with Robby that he offered him a promotion to warrant officer, a rank between chief petty officer and commissioned officer. Robby refused, arguing that because there was no billet for a warrant officer on the Russell, he would have to be transferred to another ship, and he did not want to leave. Captain Miller said, Then I’m going to recommend that you be commissioned an ensign. I’ll have to figure a way to waive the transfer.

Five months later, Robby was commissioned an ensign with a waiver of the transfer that accompanied the promotion. Bill Bargeloh, the Executive Officer, joked that in dropping from chief to ensign Robby was now privileged to eat with the other officers in the wardroom, .... but like the other officers, you’ll have to pay for your meals instead of eating free in the chief’s mess. (The last was true; officers paid a monthly mess fee.)

Robby and I served together until I received orders to return to the States during the Okinawa campaign. Although he never spoke about it, I knew that a ship had been shot out from under him. At a small ceremony three months after Robby came aboard, Captain Miller pinned a Purple Heart on his shirt. It wasn’t until almost 50 years later, however, that I learned of the suffering he and the other 96 survivors of the Meredith and Vireo, the tug they were escorting, had gone through. Few people have lived through an experience such as he did. The courage and determination exhibited by those men was unique, even at a time in history that created a generation of heroes.

In 1996, Robby sent me a copy of Shipmates Forever a book he wrote of the life and death, and the men of the USS Meredith (DD434.) Published privately, Robby’s book has had limited circulation. Robby wrote his account modestly and objectively. Typically, he tried to avoid the impression that his exploits were heroic. But they were. This story is much more than a recital of a ship’s log. I have retold it as it should be told: as a chilling account of the struggle and eventual rescue of a few, gutsy men. The stories of USS Juneau and USS Indianapolis are comparable. The episode is an important chapter in the history of World War II, one that deserves to be remembered as an example of the awesome challenges that have confronted men in defense of our country and its principles.

With his permission, I have taken Robby’s accounts and those of other crewmembers, and placed them in historical perspective. As one who has lived through the events of the time, I have taken the liberty of adding the emotional quality that the story merits.

Barry Friedman, M.D.

San Diego, CA

November 14, 2006


At age 26, Robby Robinson was one of the graybeards of the USS Meredith, a sleek destroyer being commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on March 1, 1941. Ninety percent of the crew were in their teens or just a bit older. Robinson was a plank-owner, a term left over from the days when the decks of navy ships were made of wood. To be a plank-owner meant that he was an original member of the crew when the ship was commissioned. Twenty months later, as he floated up to his neck in the oil-coated ocean, he wished that the Meredith’s decks had been made of wood so he could hang onto a piece of the plank he owned.

Robinson, a North Carolina farm boy, graduated from high school during the depths of the Depression. Like many other young men faced with a skimpy job market in 1934, he enlisted in the Navy. Following boot camp, he was assigned to the USS Altair, a destroyer tender based in San Diego. Destroyer tenders serve as mother ships. They provide mobile base and repair facilities, supplying fuel, ammunition, and other stores to destroyers and the slightly smaller DEs, or destroyer escorts.

Quiet and eager to learn, Robinson worked his way up from apprentice seaman to quartermaster over the next six years.

As quartermaster, he learned how to use the instruments involved in the navigation of the vessel. Since Altair spent most of its time at the docks in San Diego and Pearl Harbor, much of Robinson’s navigational skills were confined to finding his way around the dusty streets and tattoo parlors of those Navy towns. He was also responsible for keeping the ship’s charts and logs up to date. A stickler for order and detail, he was well suited for his role as record keeper.

Although the United States was still officially at peacetime status, Great Britain and France had been at war with the Axis powers, Germany and Italy, since September 1939, shortly after Hitler’s army invaded Poland. By May 1940, Germany had occupied Belgium and Holland.

In a movie theater in Honolulu, Robinson along with several Altair crewmembers, watched with morbid fascination newsreels showing the German army making shambles of the Maginot Line. The French government had deluded itself into thinking the string of fortified gun emplacements would serve as a barrier to enemy invasion, but this was a new kind of warfare. The Germans used flame-throwers on the pillboxes, parachuted troops behind the line, and drove relentlessly forward through France. A New York Times commentator wrote, The tremendous driving pressure of the attack which once started, the Germans try to keep forever moving is difficult to stop... A blitzkrieg was the term used to describe it.

The American sailors watching the Pathé News film were horrified to see thousands of British soldiers who had fought alongside the French, scrambling back to the beaches at Dunkirk on the English Channel. There, in an historic rescue operation, the overwhelmed Brits clambered aboard private yachts, fishing boats, and craft of all description for the choppy ride across the Channel and the relative safety of their native soil.

Now, with the military strength of the Axis dominating most of Europe, and England’s cities undergoing merciless bombardment by German aircraft, Robinson wondered how long the United States would resist coming to the aid of her traditional allies, Great Britain and France.

In early August 1940, when the Altair returned to San Diego after being stationed for 18 months at Pearl Harbor, Robinson’s six-year hitch was up. He was still in a peacetime Navy, and the war in Europe was a long way from the Pacific coast. After debating whether to make the Navy a career, he decided to return to civilian life. He was honorably discharged with a rating of Quartermaster, Second Class.

A month after Robinson received his discharge papers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, voicing concern over the inadequacy of our military strength, signed the Selective Service Act requiring all males between the ages of 21 and 36 years to register for military service of one year’s duration. In each community, Selective Service Boards doled out serial numbers to registrants.

On October 29, 1940, in an auditorium in the War Department in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Henry Stimson stood blindfolded before a huge glass bowl containing 9,000 cobalt blue capsules. Each capsule contained a Selective Service serial number. Beside Stimson, sat President Roosevelt, the other members of the Cabinet, officers of the armed forces, and several veterans of World War I. To emphasize the historic spirit of the event, the strip of yellowed linen that served as Stimson’s blindfold had been cut from the upholstery of a chair used at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Even the ladle used to stir the capsules had been fashioned from a rafter in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Stimson’s fingers groped into the bowl, plucked out one of the capsules, and handed it to the President. He opened it and withdrew from it a slip of paper on which was inscribed a number. Pausing momentarily, while millions at their radios held their breaths, Roosevelt read the number into a battery of microphones: One-five-eight.

Thus was set in motion the draft, the first peacetime compulsory military service program in this nation’s history. The number drawn, 158, was held by more than 6,100 men who had registered in local draft boards throughout

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