Bob Knight


I got an email yesterday from Bob’s daughter Pam telling me the sad news that her dad passed away on Monday after suffering a major stroke.

Bob was “one of my plankowners”  –  original crewmembers who met with me and graciously answered my questions about “what was it like to be on the Boston?”  Bob was funny and witty and charming and told some great stories about what it was like to be an 18 year old kid who found himself with a shipload of other young men enduring the grueling Pacific War.  Bob and I kept in touch in the years that followed and he regularly read (and commented on) this blog.

Pam sent me a link to his obit:

I’m sad Bob is gone.  More than that, I am forever grateful I got to meet these men and see glimpses of what my father experienced and endured from his days at the Fargo Building in Boston to coming home from Occupation Duty.


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Zook, the Juneau, the Solomons, and the Boston


Five days ago, the wreckage of light cruiser USS Juneau, was found off Guadalcanal by ex-Microsoft executive Paul Allen.  The Juneau was a casualty of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Nov 12-13, 1942.  Without spending too much time on all the twists and turns of the ship-to-ship battle, the Juneau was hit by a torpedo, and many hours later was hit by another torpedo which ripped through the munitions magazine, splitting the ship in half.  She sunk in less than a minute, taking all but 100 of her crew to the bottom with her.  100 men mostly wounded men, including the five Sullivan brothers managed to get onto 3 rafts.  They floated for eight days –  all but 10 men perished from their wounds or were eaten by sharks.

From Vol 3, Baked Beans, John Farkas remembered this:  There used to be a guy on the Signal Bridge . . . he had his bunk up there, too.  He had permission to sleep up there because he used to be on the Juneau.  Never wanted to go below decks.  He was blown off the deck on the Juneau and then it got hit by a torpedo in the magazine and it blew the ship apart.  Fished out of the water much later.  Amazing.

I have said many times that my father never spoke about his time on the Boston.  He was a signalman striker, and in his later years, he told my younger brother Bill that a guy named Les Zook was allowed to sleep on the signal bridge because his ship was sunk out from under him.

Excerpted from the New York Times, April 20, 1997, written by Robert D, McFadden, entitled:

A New Navy Destroyer Honors Victims of a Wartime Tragedy at Sea

Yesterday, in a moving tribute to the brothers and other seamen of the Juneau, a new Navy destroyer was commissioned ”U.S.S. The Sullivans” at a naval station on Staten Island, and two of the 10 men who survived the sinking of the Juneau were on hand to remember their comrades and recall their ordeal.  ”My emotions are overflowing,” said 78-year-old retired Lieut. Comdr. Lester Zook, of Eugene, Ore., who was a 23-year-old seaman when the Juneau sank. ”It’s a tremendous feeling being here today. It revives some unpleasant memories, but also some pleasant ones.”

The light cruiser that bore the name of Alaska’s capital was laid down in Kearny, N.J., in 1940, and launched in 1941. She joined the Pacific fleet in August 1942, and was assigned to task forces operating with the aircraft carriers Wasp, Hornet and Enterprise.

After her guns brought down dozens of Japanese aircraft and helped sink several ships, Juneau took up a station on Nov. 12, 1942, as part of a protective screen around troop transports and cargo vessels unloading at the American landing beaches on Guadalcanal. She helped repulse 30 enemy torpedo bombers and was credited with six kills.

The next day, a Japanese force of 20 ships attacked the Americans. Juneau helped sink a destroyer, but as the two forces slugged it out at close range, she was struck on  the port side by a torpedo. Juneau was forced to withdraw. Shortly after 11 A.M., a Japanese submarine, I-26, fired three torpedoes at the Juneau. The cruiser avoided two of them, but was struck by the third on the portside amidships. She broke in two, witnesses said, and went down in 20 seconds. But as many as 100 members of her crew were hurled into the water and managed to inflate three life rafts. Over the next seven days, Mr. Zook recalled yesterday, the survivors drifted in their rafts and died, many of them of injuries suffered in the sinking, others of shark attacks.

Mr. Zook remembered wounded men crying, moaning and suffering aboard overloaded rafts, some hanging off the sides. Some became delirious, he said. Eventually, five seamen in one raft reached a small island 55 miles away and were picked up by an amphibious plane. Five others were rescued from another raft.

Mr. Zook, a Juneau signalman, remained in the Navy for 27 years after the sinking. Nightmares troubled him for many years afterward.

Lester Eugene Zook was transferred to the Boston and came aboard on Commissioning Day, 6-30-1943 (making him a plankowner.) He mustered off the ship on 12-28-1944, having achieved a promotion to the rank of Ensign.  I’d like to point out that his departure from the ship was only days after enduring the fierce Typhoon Cobra.  I wonder what was going through his mind as the ship took a 46° roll  –  beyond the danger of capsizing mark.

So the Boston was home to two men who came within a breath or two of dying in the Solomons – Lester Zook by means of two Japanese torpedoes that sunk his ship, and Marine officer Norm Bayley who almost succumbed to malaria while fighting the Japanese on Guadalcanal.


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Another “supplies consumed” gem


Several years ago, Bob Knight loaned me his collection of “saved papers” from his time aboard the Boston, which I scanned.  Among those documents were several issues of the ship’s weekly newsletter, “The BeanPot.”  From the first newsletter of 1946:

I don’t know how many men were still aboard then.  The ship and her crew was waiting to be relieved (“sometime in mid-January”) from Occupation Duties.  Many men had mustered off the ship between early Sept, 1945 and Christmas Day.  By the looks of this list, there were still planty of hungry men on board.

Bob is a plankowner and is one of the men I interviewed and featured in the Baked Beans books.  He regularly reads these posts and often comments on their contents (see the comments section).  Thanks Bob, for all your great material and for being available to us.



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Two Years Before the Mast


My uncle Wil was a coxswain aboard the destroyer USS Erben (DD631) in the Pacific the same time as my dad and his crewmates on the Boston.  The Erben was built in Bath, ME and got to the Pacific a few months before the Boston did.  I have Wilson’s “papers” from his navy career (he also served in Korea) and among those papers are two “anniversary” report newsletters: “One Year Before the Mast” and “Two Years before the Mast.”  They’re tattered, but mostly legible.  Each division or department filed an “annual report”  Fascinating.  I’m going to share some of the data with you. . . think of it in comparison to the much larger Boston.

Two blogs ago I talked about refueling and fuel consumption (noting that in the CruDiv10 reports for October 1944, the totals were redacted.)  I looked closely at the Boston decklogs for July 1945 (for a different reason) and found that during the July 27 refueling, Boston topped off her tanks, taking 210, 314 gallons.

From ERBEN SUPPLY DEPARTMENT (28 May, 1945):  Payroll: disbursements of $341,000 of which $224,000 was cash.  Payroll shows that officers and men have drawn $258,000 off of the books, $198,000 was cash; the largest payday totalling $59,000, being held as we steamed in sight of the Golden Gate. Ship’s Store Sales: 59,000 packages of cigarettes were sold, which averages 153 packages per man and 29,800 bars of candy or 88 bars per man.  These figures were from October of last year (8 months.)  The Galley: during the last year has prepared approximately 114,500 daily rations or 343,500 meals. (This same report from One Year at the Mast:  The Supply Division has prepared and served 328,425 individual meals at a cost of $71,427.03.  339 tons of food have been consumed, one ton per man.)  Also from the year before, the ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT: during it’s first year, the ERBEN travelled 68,964.7 miles at an average speed of 15.8 knots. This is practically three times around the world at the equator . . . the Erben spent most of her time near the equator and she has not been around the world even once.  We consumed 3,082,056 gallons of fuel oil, at an approximate cost of $88,000.

There is much more information here – everything from how much paint was used to how many message blanks the Radiomen and Signalmen used (50,000).  The Erben, a Fletcher-class destroyer, was built to house 329 men.

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Gooney Birds


While the ship was in San Pedro, CA for repairs (March 27 to June 1, 1945) the “Kingfisher” catapult planes were replaced with faster “SC1 Seahawks”.

Seahawk being launched off the Boston

Being “recovered” – pulled onto a long net, drawn near the ship and then lifted by the catapult cranes.

” I remember the time we lost Lieutenant Grutzmacher, one of the gooney bird pilots.  You know what a gooney bird was?  The catapult plane with the big pontoon on it  –  an SC1 Seahawk.  He was spotting for us on one of the operations; I don’t remember if it was Iwo Jima, but it was one of the islands where we were firing our 8 inch guns . . . He came back to get on board  –  they have cranes to pick him out of the water.
Anyway, the ship turns in such a way that it smoothes all the water near the stern.  A big area nice and smooth and he lands in there and he motors it in close to the ship and they put a hook on and the pick him up.  Well,this time he hit a ground swell and it flipped the plane upside down.  He got caught in it; he didn’t have time to get out and he went down.  Gone.  I saw it with my own eyes.”       Pat Fedele

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