The Blessings of Loose Lips and Ships
Pearl Harbor hit home early. Dad was skipper of the USCGC Alexander Hamilton in Norfolk. We were at the home of the captain of the aircraft carrier Hornet (from whence Jimmy Doolittle hit Tokyo) on December 7 when the phone rang. The winter days were short, and we remember looking out from Virginia Beach and seeing the glow in the evening sky from torpedoed tankers just over the horizon. Dad kissed us good-bye, and in late January 1942 Mom heard “on good authority” that his ship had been torpedoed, but there were some survivors.
That same day Rick spilled a bottle of ink on the floor. While Mom was cleaning up the mess, Gra heard her say, “We’re at War. Arthur may be dead. I’m on my hands and knees scrubbing away. Well, life goes on!” Dad was among those rescued. The Hamilton was the first naval ship sunk in the Atlantic after war was declared. The story of their first convoy to Great Britain and return to Reykjavik with the reefer USS Yukon in tow and the sinking are described in Bloodstained Sea, by Mike Walling.
Upon learning that Dad was in Brooklyn to help establish a Coast Guard Training Station at Manhattan Beach, we packed up and were on our way out the door—when a Navy torpedo plane crashed in our backyard. We will never forget the two rubber body bags. That same day we were the second car in line awaiting the Cape Charles Ferry on our way to New York. The first car crashed through the barrier on the boarding ramp.
The Training Station was great fun for us boys; Jack Dempsey, “The Manassa Mauler,” ran physical training. During a parade the first helicopter any of us had ever seen landed on the Parade Ground, and Dad went up for a spin. What a kick! Gra noted that rifles were in such short supply that sailors drilled with German Mausers, relics from WWI. Touring the armory one day, Dad jokingly challenged Rick to lift a practice 5-inch projectile. Before he could be stopped, Rick tipped the greased shell on end, and it landed on his big toe.
With the boot camp up and running, CG Headquarters suggested that Dad had seen enough WWII sea duty. A job training women SPARS in Palm Beach, where the CG had taken over The Breakers Hotel, was offered as a pleasant alternative. The idea certainly had Mom’s blessing. He respectfully declined and assumed command of the USS Cavalier, an attack transport in the Pacific. Cavalier participated in several landings and was torpedoed and hit by a kamikaze during the landing at Leyte and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Dad said his great lesson from Leyte was never to be the first ship to shoot at a kamikaze, as they would immediately dive on the source of fire. His war ended officiating at a Burial at Sea, awarding Purple Hearts, and on a long slow tow back to Pearl Harbor. Fortunately for us kids on the home front, “Loose Lips Sink Ships” had taken hold, and Mom did not learn of Dad’s activities in the Pacific until well after the fact.
Years later Mom and Dad visited The Breakers. As she whacked Dad’s croquet ball out of bounds, those within earshot might have heard, “You see what we missed, Dear? This would have been a great fun Duty Station.”