Monday Maritime Matters

December 24th, 2007 by xformed

Other fine maritime issues reading (in case you missed it yesterday): Wake Island, 1941 at Eagle Speak and (in case you missed it today): Maritime Monday 90 at Fred Fry International.
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His name was James Richard Ward. A Seaman First Class aboard the USS OKLAHOMA (BB-37) on the morning of Dec 7th, 1941.

S1C James Richard Ward, USN, MOH

Born in Sept 10th, 1921, he enlisted in the Navy in Cincinnati, OH in Nov, 1940. On that fateful day, Seaman Ward had manned his assigned station in one of the 14″ gun turrets. He was, by derivation, a crew member of one of the main guns, as the secondary battery guns are properly called “mounts,” with the title of “turret” being reserved for the large naval guns mounted on battle ships and large cruisers.From the Wikipedia entry:

She was based at Pearl Harbor from 6 December 1940 for patrols and exercises, and was moored in Battleship Row on 7 December 1941, when the Japanese attacked. Outboard alongside USS Maryland, Oklahoma took three torpedo hits almost immediately after the first Japanese bombs fell. As she began to capsize, two more torpedoes struck home, and her men were strafed as they abandoned ship. Within 20 minutes after the attack began, she had rolled over until halted by her masts touching bottom, her starboard side above water, and a part of her keel clear.

Many of her crew, however, remained in the fight, clambering aboard Maryland to help serve her anti-aircraft batteries. Twenty officers and 395 enlisted men were killed or missing.
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James Ward was one of the men who perished when the ship capsized, but he did so ensuring his shipmates had a fighting chance of surviving. The citation for his Medal of Honor tells the story:

For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. When it was seen that the U.S.S. Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship, Ward remained in a turret holding a flashlight so the remainder of the turret crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life.

A life defined in 20 minutes and he could have scrambled for the hatch and safety, too, but he didn’t. The USS OKLAHOMA suffered the second highest casualty count of any unit at Pearl Harbor.

USS J RICHARD WARD (DE-243) c. 1943
In honor of Seaman First Class J. Richard Ward, the USS J RICHARD WARD (DE-243), a unit of the EDSALL Class DEs, was commissioned on July 5th, 1943, LT T. S. Dunstan commanding. By September, she had completed her training and was running convoy escort operations between the US East Coast and Europe. The war in Europe ended and she was modernized for duty in the Pacific Theater. Sailing from New York on June 28th, 1945, she was enroute Pearl Harbor when the Japanese surrendered.On June 13th, 1946, the USS J RICHARD WARD was decommissioned and placed in the Reserve Fleet.The Class of EDSALL DEs is memorialized at the USS SLATER (DE-766) museum in Albany, NY. The SLATER is the last DE of the class still in existence.
DESA Header Logo

In doing some of this research, I also found the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association (DESA) website. If you are one, you can join up as a sustaining member to help keep the history records alive. Lots of resoruces there for the history of these small, but important ships, to include some “life aboard DEs” section, and then there are the “sea stories,” including one by Ernie Pyle riding on a DE during the war:

In the Western Pacific — So now I’m a D-E sailor. Full-fledged one. Drenched from head to foot with salt water. Sleep with a leg crooked around your rack so you won’t fall out. Put wet bread under your dinner tray to keep it from sliding. Even got my Jesus-shoes ordered.

And you don’t know what a D-E sailor is? You don’t know the D-E Navy? Better not let one of them hear you say that. They’re 50,000 strong out here. And they pride themselves on their rough life at sea. So better be careful.

A D-E, my friends, is a destroyer-escort. It’s a ship, long and narrow and sleek, along the lines of a destroyer. But it’s much smaller. It’s a baby destroyer. It’s the American version of the British corvette.

It is the answer to the problems of colossal amounts of convoying; amounts so huge that we simply hadn’t the time to build full-fledged destroyers to escort them all. The D-E was the result. It is a wartime product, and it has done very valiantly.
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Many other interesting bits of history are listed on the DESA site.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 24th, 2007 at 10:40 am and is filed under Navy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

1 response about “Monday Maritime Matters”

  1. Mac Christy ENC USN (RET) said:

    Correction: Slater is NOT the last of the Edsall class DE’s, she is a Cannon class. The last of the Edsall class DE’s is USS Stewart DE-238 in Galveston TX.

    Mac Christy
    President
    Edsall Class Veterans Association In.

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