Part of the problem with doing family history is that there is so much missing. Kelly and I both had relatives serving in the U.S. Navy in World War Two, and on a wide range of different ships. Kelly had a grandfather that served on the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) during the war, and I had a grandfather that eventually served on the USS Cutlass (SS-478). Interestingly enough, both of these vessels are well-documented, and even more fascinating, both of them still exist.
USS Massachusetts is, of course, a museum ship these days at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts. But the USS Cutlass has managed to survive, too and in fact is still on active duty – in the navy of Taiwan, as the Hai Shih, or in English, Sea Lion. I was pleasantly surprised to see how this submarine is still around, and in fact a few years ago some historians from the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association, where the USS Pampanito (SS-383) is currently kept, had the chance to see the ex-USS Cutlass and take a lot of pictures.
Sadly, the ships our grandfathers served on are exceptions. Most of the ships from World War Two are long gone. And so many of the other vessels I have tried to research have not been quite as well-documented as USS Massachusetts or USS Cutlass. For example, my great-uncle John was a career navy man, serving in both World War Two and Korea, and thus he served on a lot of ships over the years. However, Uncle John served mostly on smaller navy vessels, and many smaller ships are just not as well-known. Luckily his first ship, the USS Patterson (DD-392) is quite well-documented, and he spent many years on that destroyer, mostly in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor. In fact, I think he was a plankowner for that ship. And Patterson was present at Pearl Harbor, and also through many of the actions of the Pacific. In fact, Patterson is famous for its role in the Battle of Savo Island, in which historian Samuel Eliot Morison said it was “the only American ship that was properly awake”.
Sadly, many of the other vessels are not as well-documented. For example, I discovered that he served on two LSTs, LST-277 and LST-483, and neither of those ships have a lot of information on them that I have been able to find. Here in the US there is only one LST museum ship, the LST-325, and it is in Indiana, of all places. There are no “official” US Navy photos of either of those LSTs, as far as I have been able to tell. The first, 277, is the one on which Uncle John must have seen quite a bit of action, all through the summer and fall of 1944. And fortunately I found a website, More Than Words Can Ever Express, that features letters written by one of its officers and has a fair bit of information on the ship. Much to my surprise and delight, the site actually has a picture of the ship.
Uncle John’s job on the ship, according to a record I found, was CBM (AA). I believe that means Chief Bosun’s Mate for the antiaircraft guns. I figured that would be a Chief Gunner’s Mate, but I am not a Navy man, so I am not sure how that works.
Anyway, I know that Uncle John was on the USS Micka (DE-176) in late 1945 when the war ended, and I believe this is the ship that he returned to the States on, as the ship docked in Boston upon its return to the East Coast.
Like I said, small ships. But Uncle John was a “tin can sailor” so he spent all his time on little ships, for the most part.