Last month I posted about Cloyd Fair, one of the ship’s barbers. He mustered onto the Boston on Commissioning Day, along with a full crew of mostly fresh-out of – boot-camp sailors. But Cloyd saw some duty before coming to the Boston; he was a barber on the Arizona. He survived the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the sinking of his ship.
Today I want to tell you about another plankowner who mustered onto the Boston on Commissioning Day: Victor K. Conner of Pleasant Plains, Illinois. Like Cloyd Fair, the Boston wasn’t Victor’s first ship. He was a machinist mate on the USS Wasp (CV-7) as she plied the South Pacific. CV-7 was escorting troop transports to Guadalcanal when she was torpedoed on Sept. 15, 1942.
Victor’s son Vic reached out recently, sending me a picture of his dad. He shares his and his siblings’ memory of their dad’s experience: “he spoke about the time the USS Wasp was torpedoed. He worked in the boiler room as a machinist mate with secondary training as a fireman. When the first Japanese torpedo hit he was thrown to the ground and the second one stood him back up again. As the ship was severely damaged, all the sailors began exiting the ship anyway they could-all except the boiler men who had to remain below deck to back the ship out of oil leaking from the damaged ship.
When Vic and the other men could leave, it was the USS Duncan that came along and swept them out of the water on ropes catching the men like fish. When he was aboard the Duncan, he and the other men that were rescued sat together on canvas tarps. The tarps were sticky, and sadly he found out that they were actually sitting on the bodies of fellow shipmates that had been covered by the tarps. He also spoke of the horrors he saw in the water as they pulled away from the burning vessel.”
(If you want to read about another Boston guy whose ship was sunk, check out my post from 2 years ago about Lester Zook. Type in “zook” on the search icon on the main page.)
Here’s to all the brave Sailors and Marines who dedicated formative years and risk their lives to support their friends and country. We love and respect everyone of you and thank you for your brave service.
The ships of Task Force 38 were east of the Northern Philippines by December 13 to begin support of the Mindoro Landing. The strategy was to blanket Luzon with round-the-clock fighter coverage over the airfields of Luzon – squashing kamikaze attacks before they could materialize against the US Invasion Fleet off Mindoro.
Admiral Halsey ordered the ships to a refueling rendezvous starting early Sunday morning, December 17. After three days of raids and attacks against Luzon, the ships were low on fuel – especially the destroyers. TF38 ships met up with the Service Group – oilers, escort carriers and their destroyers, but the wind and seas were kicking up and refueling had to be called off. over the next twenty four hours, three more refueling rendezvous were scheduled, but none could be exercised. The men and ships were seasoned by several typhoons since heading to Pearl Harbor a year earlier. They had endured many days of foul weather. No one on the ship was prepared for the monstrous storm that was now heading their way, however.
A fierce, tight, fast moving storm had began developing days earlier a thousand miles away and went undetected by traditional weather observations in place at the time. Despite each aircraft carrier having aboard a meteorologist, the storm eluded detection until it was too late. By nightfall on the 17th, the ships were struggling against giant waves and fierce winds, and were scattered across sixty miles of ocean. Mighty aircraft carriers were bobbing down so low that they scooped sea water across their decks. Planes broke free and crashed into each other or were swept into the sea. The destroyers, most dangerously low on fuel and de-ballasted, were at the mercy of waves taller than their ships and at times, winds that gusted past 100 mph.
This is what the men of the Boston endured on that awful night between Dec 17 and December 18. The ship recorded side-to-side rolls that went way beyond the danger-point.
Halsey had continually ordered the ships on a southerly course, because his “weather guys” thought the eye of the storm was a hundred miles to the east. This would take them south of the worst part of the storm, and would allow the ships to refuel in calmer waters. In fact, though, the eye of the storm passed right through the formation of ships, causing some to be whacked on all sides, making navigation impossible. Most ships lost power and/or radio, and visibility was zero. During that awful night, three destroyers went down: the Hull, the Spence, and the Monaghan. Total loss of life: almost 800 men – mostly sailors aboard the three destroyers, but also includes men swept off other ships throughout the storm.
1944: On Dec 9, the Boston weighed anchor after more than two weeks in drydock in Seeadler Harbor. The ship headed north to rejoin the rest of the ships of the Task Force anchored in Ulithi Lagoon. They arrived at the lagoon on Tuesday, December 12th. The following day, they formed up off Ulithi into Task Group 38.1, joining the cruisers New Orleans, San Francisco, the Baltimore and San Diego along with the battleships Massachusetts and Alabama. Those seven large capital ships form the screen around the four aircraft carriers of the group: the Yorktown, Wasp, Cowpens and Monterey. Sixteen destroyers form the outer screen. The Task Force (TF38) and the Invasion Force begin the second phase of operations to liberate the Philippines, code named Operation Love lll, the landing of invasion forces on Mindoro. By now, the Japanese use of suicide attacks (kamikazes) against American ships was becoming commonplace.
On December 14, 15, and 16, the carriers of Task Force 38 launch deckloads of fighters and bombers against targets on Mindoro and Luzon. On December 17th, the weather stiffens and the seas grow heavy – a typhoon is gathering – and conditions get worse and worse. They are about to run afoul of the fiercest typhoon of the War – Typhoon Cobra.