Category Archives: Battleships

A Belated Father’s Day Post…


A few of you know I’ve been in a little bit of “funk” the past month or so…

No real reason…  just things.

But I had a GREAT Father’s Day!  So a belated and short post.

It started out with seeing my “second” dad – Old Man Jack.  I last visited Jack on Memorial Day…  but it was a bit saddening to see that his only daughter hadn’t been by.

It’s always good to see him – although I didn’t stop by in my LOUD supercharged Mustang he loved so much.

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Of course, you can only have one dad… and mine’s 94.  We had a Father’s Day Brunch at his assisted living center and his luckily, his appetite was back.  We enjoyed a special Father’s Day brunch.  Meat and potatoes!  His fave!

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He then finished off his lunch with…sweets!  Man, he’s got a sweet tooth!  These were Japanese candies sent to him from my cousin Masako (and Izumi) in Hiroshima.  (He had four. lol)

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Does he look content?  LOL

IMG_0842And someone “special” had called… and wanted to give me a Father’s Day hug!  Ou-la-la!  She is a gal with one of the sweetest souls around…and she shall remain nameless. 🙂

Picture1She’s had a positive impact on me. 🙂

And then…  the grand finale…

I headed up from Fashion Island in Newport Beach to Pomona…My oldest son, Takeshi……graduated from Cal Poly Pomona!  He’s even got a straight A streak going!  And he BEAT his brilliant sister in Organic Chemistry by getting an A!  She will never hear the end of that one…  🙂

Congratulations, son!  And a BIG thanks to my ex and his step-dad.  I couldn’t ask for a better guy.

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I don’t think an old man can ask for anything greater than that superific day!

Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part II


Yes, Mr. Johnson was in for it.

The carnage he was to experience would be absent even from the worst possible nightmare a nineteen year old boy can possibly have dreamed.

Violence no young boy of 19 should have to endure.

He would have two lives after he stepped into that Marine Corps recruiting station: one of reality during the day and of a nightmare he would never awaken from at night.

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I took them to breakfast for a belated 66th wedding anniversary and 88th birthdays. It’s softened as that’s how Marge wanted it.  Seal Beach, CA. August 14, 2011.

I was not close to Mr. Johnson as I was to Old Man Jack; perhaps it was because for the first five years after I moved into this patriotic Naval neighborhood, he and his good wife Marge traveled about the US in their motorhome.  They were gone for perhaps six to eight months out of the year.  Man, did they enjoy seeing the US of A.  After all, he fought for her.

He stayed indoors most of the time when at home while Marge would walkabout during the warm summer nights with her wine and chat with neighbors and me.  She enjoyed her Chablis very much.  Slowly, her legs would give way to age.  Mr. Johnson’s, too.

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In the early part of 1942, Mr. Johnson found himself on a little boat out in the middle of the Pacific – the Big E.

The USS Enterprise.

CV-6.

She was one of only three operational carriers in the Pacific.  The Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown.

The Battle for Midway

He was on his way to the Battle of Midway (Mr. Johnson did not tell me that.  Old Man Jack did.).  June of 1942.

A tremendous gamble of scarce naval assets and young men by Admiral Nimitz.

PFC Doreston “Johnnie” Johnson manned her anti-aircraft batteries as a US Marine.

Thousands of young lives were lost during the most critical sea battle – on both sides.  But the critical gamble paid off for the US.  The Japanese Imperial Navy lost four carriers.  They would never recover.

But we lost the Yorktown.  A tremendous loss for the United States…but the tide of war changed.

The USS Yorktown on fire at the crucial Battle of Midway. She would later be sunk.

Miraculously, the Enterprise escaped damage.

And as far as I understand, so did the young boy from Basile, Louisiana, Mr. Johnson.

At least physically.

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Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands Campaign

His next trial would be Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands campaign.

It would be an insult to to all the brave men that were there if I were to even try and express in writing what brutal sea combat was like.

I was not there.  But every young man there thought – every second – that there was a bomb coming at him.  Constantly.

Like hearing shrapnel from near bomb misses ricocheting off the batteries – or striking flesh.  The deafening, unending thundering of “whump-whump-whump” from AA batteries.  The yelling.  The sound of a mortally wounded enemy plane crashing into the water nearby with a likewise young pilot.  The screams of wounded or dying boys.

This is taken from a naval summary: “After a month of rest and overhaul, Enterprise sailed on 15 July for the South Pacific where she joined TF 61 to support the amphibious landings in the Solomon Islands on 8 August. For the next 2 weeks, the carrier and her planes guarded seaborne communication lines southwest of the Solomons. On 24 August a strong Japanese force was sighted some 200 miles north of Guadalcanal and TF 61 sent planes to the attack. An enemy light carrier was sent to the bottom and the Japanese troops intended for Guadalcanal were forced back. Enterprise suffered most heavily of the United States ships, 3 direct hits and 4 near misses killed 74, wounded 95, and inflicted serious damage on the carrier. But well-trained damage control parties, and quick, hard work patched her up so that she was able to return to Hawaii under her own power.”

“Repaired at Pearl Harbor from 10 September to 16 October, Enterprise departed once more for the South Pacific where with Hornet, she formed TF 61. On 26 October, Enterprise scout planes located a Japanese carrier force and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Island was underway. Enterprise aircraft struck carriers, battleships, and cruisers during the struggle, while the “Big E” herself underwent intensive attack. Hit twice by bombs, Enterprise lost 44 killed and had 75 wounded. Despite serious damage, she continued in action and took on board a large number of planes from Hornet when that carrier had to be abandoned. Though the American losses of a carrier and a destroyer were more severe than the Japanese loss of one light cruiser, the battle gained priceless time to reinforce Guadalcanal against the next enemy onslaught.

Regardless of who is correct – and we’ll never know for obvious reasons – Enterprise gunners shot down more planes at Eastern Solomons in 15 minutes and at Santa Cruz in 25 minutes than did the vast majority of all battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers throughout the entire war.

She was the last operating carrier in the Pacific.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the violence of World War II, perhaps these photos will give you an idea.

Try – just try – to imagine you are on that ship…  Nineteen years old.  The Japanese planes are shooting at you and dropping bombs on you.  Dead and wounded boys are everywhere.  Fires are raging…  The ship is listing…and through all this, you must continue to man your anti-aircraft guns…  Protecting the ship and the lives of your fellow Americans.

A Japanese bomb explodes on the USS Enterprise
One of the direct bomb hits.  All the young men in this area (Gun Group 3) were killed. Many could not be found.
The USS Enterprise under attack. A near miss but men were killed or wounded by the shrapnel.
The USS Enterprise on fire. August 24, 1942. Mr. Johnson was on her.
A Val bomber on fire goes past the radar mast on the USS Enterprise. Perhaps one of Mr. Johnson’s rounds hit it.
Damaged hull from one of the near misses.
More hull damage from bomb shrapnel.
The USS Enterprise listing from battle damage.
Burning Japanese planes seen from the deck of the Enterprise. That’s how close they were. Up close and very personal.  Aug. 24, 1942.
Burial service at sea for 44 of the men after the battle at Santa Cruz. Oct 27 1942

Remember these young boys.  I always will.

Mr. Johnson was one of them.

Mr. Johnson was one of those wounded.

Twice.

And I have proof of his valor and guts on board as a US Marine.

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More to come in Part III.

Dadgummit


OK.

Please allow me to beat this one to death.

Yes.  President Harding’s last photos in my grandmother’s album.

OMG.  Leave it alone!

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I found a copy of the actual event flyer from July 1923.

Now we can see an overview.  See what the Bell Street Pier looked like when President Harding rode in his motorcade.

You can make out train tracks.  Look at the far left – you can see the window locations on the building and…a pole.  You can also see blackness under what appears to be a short bridge and a railing that abruptly ends.  Important stuff.

The “PORT OF SEATTLE” with “BELL STREET PIER” signage can be signage can be seen at the far left.

Upon studying “Grandma’s” photos further and in comparison to the “press” photo (below), I feel BOTH were taken within seconds of each other – but from opposite side of the motorcade.  Please note my scribbles:

“Grandma’s” on top, “press” below.

And note the following obervations:

  1. Pole – also painted white at the bottom;
  2. The prominent roof of a car (circled) parked along the pier and next to the pole;
  3. The group of four men marked with the proverbial “X marks the spot(s)”;
  4. The wooden railing in both of Grandma Kono’s photos; and,
  5. The US Marine Corps on one side of the motorcade, the US Navy on the other.

Amazing.  These are two rare images taken from different sides of President Harding and within seconds of each other.

BUT…….

With the flyer image, we now know train tracks ran along the pier.  Trains are also visible in the press photo.  There are MEN atop the rail cars.

Due to the angle, it is believed the photos in Grandma Kono’s album were taken from atop the rail cars.  Off to the left just outside the field of view in the picture (just like the grassy knoll in the famous Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination).

Ergo, I cannot fathom Grandma Kono climbing atop a rail car…let alone in a dress as was customary at that time for ladies.

Or would she?  Nah.

So…I don’t believe she herself took the pictures.

Dadgummit.

BUT……

Perhaps it was Grandpa Hisakichi!

OK.  Stop.

A Desire and President Harding


It was hard not to get caught up on the surprising photos Grandma Kono took of President Harding.

Taken in 1922 at the White House.

July 27, 1923.

Six days before the sudden death of President Harding.

I just couldn’t deny my natural tendency to research…with no goal to speak of.

And while I have hundreds of other vintage family photographs taken of up to a century ago to scan and retouch, I just had retouch President Harding’s pictures.  To bring back the excitement of that warm day in Seattle.

I was a bad boy.

And this story is unexciting unless you are into the past…and into a family’s past as well.

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It was most fortunate Flickr friend, US Navy veteran and author M. Shawn Hennessy (author of “Freedom’s Fortress“) offered assistance without any prompting.  What a guy…especially since he is on the mend after a bad spill on his bike.  He is sure to make a lot of friends with the TSA getting through airport security now.

After some researching on his own, Shawn classified the battleship in Grandma Kono’s photo album as one from the Pennsylvania class.

After Shawn’s assist made it easy, she was identified as BB-38 – the USS Pennsylvania.  Interestingly, another battleship, the USS Idaho, was part of President Harding’s naval review – not the USS Pennsylvania.  It appears that President Harding boarded the USS Pennsylvania in Puget Sound for dinner although she was a frequent visitor to that area.

Grandma Kono’s picture as retouched:

A couple of vintage naval photographs of the USS Pennsylvania on the internet for comparison:

Archival photograph
Archival photograph

(Note: After FDR signed the Executive Order to imprison Japanese citizens on the west coast after Pearl Harbor, the FBI went into many private homes in search of “spy material” which definitely would have included any happenstance photo of the military.  It would be interesting to contemplate of what may have happened if my grandparents had remained in Seattle and the FBI came across these photographs in their home after Pearl Harbor.)

Her other picture of the USS Pennsylvania as retouched.  The shuttle does not have a civilian standing at aft as I previously noted.  We now see that he is a naval officer with his cocked hat and shoulder paulettes.

Admiral’s Barge

The photos in Grandma Kono’s album of President Harding’s motorcade were taken from a distance – not streetside.  That would become an interesting point.

The retouched photos in Grandma’s album; in the first image, the limousine is between the US Marine Corps recruiting truck and a car’s rooftop.  Shawn identified the ship at dockside as the destroyer USS Hendersen:

The closest view of the President in Grandma Kono’s album as retouched.

In scanning the internet, Shawn and I came across a few “press-type” professional photographs of the event; they were mostly taken from streetside.  Up close and personal.  The best image showing the details of President Harding’s limousine – down to the carpet of flowers on the hood – and the First Lady’s hat found by Shawn on the internet:

A professional press photo

Another view:

Scan the bystanders.  This is also a cropped image of the next photo.
This is the uncropped image of the previous photo.  Scan the bystanders.

If you enlarge the images and scan the bystanders, I did not see one individual with a camera to his or her face.  Many of the males were doffing their hat with one hand which further decreases the number of individuals capable of taking a photo.

As for the cameras of that time, they would have been of the collapsible bellows type or an early Brownie – which would have been literally a box with a small hole for the lens.  Both required two hands to operate properly.  In the family photos while camping somewhere near Seattle, I noticed a bellows-type camera.  Also important to note that is it was unlikely her camera would have been a Speed Graphic (4×5 film requires a dark slide thereby too much time) or a TLR (square negative with a reverse image in viewfinder).  It would be more likely she used 620 or 127 film in my opinion.

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I also did not notice obvious non-whites in the crowds.

The significance of seeing only Caucasian bystanders?  Perhaps minorities may have decided to not be in the way…or there was no interest…or had to work as it was a Monday.  That leads me to the question of whether or not my grandmother was there to snap the pictures.  If not, from whom would she have received copies of these pictures?

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My conclusively unsupportable conclusions?  That’s a sentence for sure.

No matter how you look at Grandma Kono’s pictures, they appear to be rare, personally taken photos outside of “authorized” photographs – military, government or newspaper.  They also show the “ambience” of the event being taken from a distance.

I also believe Grandfather Hisakichi would have been unlikely to have snapped the photos if he were there.  He was known to be strict and would have honored customs – like doffing his hat.  That would remove him from have taken the pictures of the motorcade as it required two hands to operate a camera of that era.  That leaves Grandma Kono – IF she was there.

Lastly, I believe the film used was either 620 or 127 (or similar) and not large format.  It is further supported by the print size (roughtly 2-1/2 x 3-1/2).  That would tend to support the belief that the photo was taken by an ordinary bystander and not a professional photographer.  It was also not taken by a Speed Graphic.

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Hmmm…  After all this research, should I have been doing something else after all?

All I know for sure was that the photos of President Harding were taken on July 27, 1923 at the Bell Street Pier in Seattle.

That he was already ill.

That our 29th President would be dead six days later.

That I couldn’t spot any civilians snapping a picture.

And a desire to believe my Grandma Kono took these rare pictures of President Harding.