Dear Siblings 'O Mine:
Below are some emails from Dad about his World War
II exploits on the destroyer escort USS
We are all very worried about Dad's illness. We all
know how old he is.
I hope you don't decide after reading the below messages
between me and Dad that I'm hopelessly corny. We all show our love for
Dad in our own ways, and he loves each of us for who we are.
One of you is brilliant enough to have chatted with
the great philosophers of the world. One of you is brilliant and successful
and solid as a rock. One of you is the only son, the heir apparent.
And I, well I guess I'm just truly interested in Dad's Navy war stories
(or the designated listener).
I keep up this WWII dialog with Dad not only because
I know that these memories keep old Naval warriors like him proud in
the remembrance of their heroic deeds during this most momentous time
in the history of the world (and in their experience), and thus happy
and living yet another day, but also because I actually find the tales
to be truly fascinating.
I have done some studying up and Internet searches
on Dad's destroyer escort, the USS Wilhoite-DE397. I have found some
stories that Dad never told us about when recounting to us kids his
heroic tales of the mighty USS Wilhoite's exploits during the war such
as when his ship fired on schools of fish and icebergs, mistaking them
for enemy submarines!
One site I located is www.hazegray.org. This is a
Navy history site titled Haze Gray & Underway. (Note: do NOT go
to hazegray.com but to www.hazegray.org (if you even care to go anywhere!)).
On this site, I found some photos and stories about Dad's ship, the
USS Wilhoite-DE397 (http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/escorts/de397.htm).
Another good reference site is http://www.navsource.org/archives/06/397.htm.
I also found some stuff that even Dad didn't know
- or probably did but never said so.
One of those stories is in regard to the origination
of the name "Haze Gray & Underway" itself. It has to do
ship colors during WW II. As in all governmental action,
the very mix of the paint pigments followed a many-mile trail from the
top of the Defense Department down to the tip of the painter's brush
in regard to the Navy's ships.
Haze Gray was a ship camouflage color. After sending
this information to Dad, he wrote back with the interesting fact that
Navy ships were sometimes painted in a zigzag pattern using several
colors. This was to confuse the enemy, to make them think that a single
large ship was a number of smaller ships.
USS Wilhoite DE-397 "wore"
Measure 21 paint, as follows:
An overall navy purple/blue applied
to ships in the Pacific fleet. This measure was effective against aerial
The Atlantic fleet did not authorize measure 21 until December 1944.
In January 1945 the standard Measure 21 purple/blue color was changed
back to the pre-war neutral gray series of paints.
Measure 21 (neutral navy gray) remained in use until about 1947-50 when
all ships were repainted in measure 13 (#27, overall haze gray) during
their scheduled overhaul.
The USS Wilhoite (DE-397) is shown wearing Measure 21 outside the U.S.
Navy Yard in Charleston, SC on 22 June 1945.
On 1 June 1944 the USS Barr had her stern blown off by a German acoustic
torpedo. During the same battle, the German U-boat also sunk the USS
Block Island. Later, despite continued U-boat threats, the USS Wilhoite
took the USS Barr in tow and towed her to Casablanca, arriving five
days later on 6 June 1944. For the remainder of the war the Wilhoite
assisted in several U-boat sinkings and convoy escorts in both the Atlantic
and Pacific. She also served during the Korean war after receiving a
DER conversion and later in Vietnam. The USS Wilhoite received the Presidential
Unit Citation, a Navy Unit Commendation, and one battle star for World
War II service and six battle stars for her duty in Vietnam.
The USS Wilhoite (DE-397) is shown
wearing Measure 21
outside the U.S. Navy Yard in Charleston, SC on 22 June 1945.
Measure 21 (Navy Blue System) - Authorized
in June 1942, this measure was replaced measure 11 and was identical
to it except it used the new navy blue (5-N) instead of sea blue. The
new navy blue (5-N) was essentially just a darker sea blue (5-S). This
measure was relatively common during the later half of the war and it
was often revived again in late 1944 through 1945 to provide some air
protection from the ever present kamikaze attackers.
Don't you think that's really interesting?
Anyway, my interest in all this stuff and also my
love of Dad is what inspired me to create a page on my website in honor
of him and his ship. I had great, great fun creating this site. To view
it, use the USS Wilhoite Home Port link
at the bottom of this page.
This page has a slide show of the USS Wilhoite-DE397
accompanied by the U.S. Navy Chorus singing "Anchors Aweigh."
There is also a little tribute to Dad as well as a couple of humorous
It's a darned proud site if I do say so myself!
Eventually I will add "key words" to the "header"
of my html page so that maybe some of Dad's shipmates (those who are
still alive these many years later - and who know how to search the
Internet) will find my site if they are searching for pages regarding
the USS Wilhoite-DE397.
Unfortunately, Dad doesn't have the computer power
or Internet speed to even look at the site. Thus, I intend to snag some
"screen shot" software so that I can play the site and record
it to my hard drive and then burn it to a DVD. All he will then need
to view it is his remote control, something we know he's gotten quite
familiar with now that he's not getting around too well and spends so
much time sitting on the couch in front of the tube.
The above is just an explanation of why I am the
way I am. Now, what are your excuses?
Hey, by the way, my USS Wilhoite web pages have been
scouted out by and made known to various Navy and military organizations,
and I have since been contacted by commanding officers and reunion officials
and invited to three ship reunions - the USS Wilhoite, the USS Bogue,
and the USS Willis!
Email: Dad to Me
About General Quarters - That is a condition of the
ship's greatest readiness to fight or defend itself or accomplish other
parts of its mission.
For example, a submarine contact, enemy planes, man
overboard, enemy ship in contact, fire, etc.
The alarm on our ship was activated by a lever from
the bridge by the officer of the deck or the captain. It was a musical
note or gong with priority over the intercom and summoned everybody
to his battle station.
Everybody had a battle station at general quarters.
The ship was put into its maximum condition of readiness for fighting
or surviving. Oil and water tanks were divided fore and aft, electricity
generation and distribution was split fore and aft. All fire pumps started.
All guns and armament were manned and ready. All sound-powered phones
were manned. All watertight hatches closed, damage control crews standing
by, etc. Everybody raced to his station.
All tried to get their clothes on because this was
critical if you had to abandon ship. All had a life jacket. I wore an
inflatable life belt similar to our water-skiing belt. Many wore knives.
I usually strapped on a 45 pistol.
On our ship, everybody could be at their battle station
in about 1 minute, and this with the ship blacked out. However, there
were dim red lights around the ship. Red light does not affect your
My battle station was down in the main engine control
room. Naturally you could not see what was going on, but our 'talker'
would keep up a running commentary of what was coming over the sound-powered
When coming into port, special sea detail would be
set which was a lesser condition of readiness but one concentrating
on handling the ship in close confines when coming into a harbor.
Also, on the bridge, every sea buoy would be identified
from a chart. Every buoy had its own characteristics such as 'a whistle
buoy', a gong buoy - black or red buoy, say flashing white every 10
seconds, 2 red flashes in succession,etc. The compass direction between
each pair of buoys would be listed on the chart, and on our ship every
buoy was identified, the direction checked on the chart to make sure
we were in the ship channel. Also, these were critical for a ship coming
into port at night.
Guess I have exhausted my typing skills. Talk to
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2005
Email: Dad to Me
[Dad's reply to my document, "Shiver Me Timbers" - Dad apparently
thought I was serious when I asked him if he met Humphrey Bogart and
Ingrid Bergman during the Battle of Casablanca. Oh, well, what parent
ever gave any credence to the intelligence of the middle child? My lifelong
curse . . .]
I could give you simple answers about Casablanca,
[Humphrey] Bogart, and the USS Barr with a simple yes-no-yes but instead
have opted for a dissertation.
In early 1944, we were part of the escort for a 100-ship
slow convoy going into the Mediterranean from New York. We dropped off
at Gibraltar and proceeded to Casablanca. We were there 4 days. We had
to supply shore patrol - an officer and 4 men - for a 24 hour patrol.
The city was blacked out. All went well in the daytime, but at night
things changed. We came across several GI's lying in the street, picked
naked - probably drugged on wine. We had a number to call, and the French
police came and took them back for clothing and returned them to their
The next night we went to Rick's where Casablanca
was reputedly filmed - looked just like it -smoky, noisy, and seating
was on hassocks. (I have heard that Casablanca was not filmed there
-???) Anyway, we bought big liter bottles of a brown champagne for a
US buck - think I drank two of these - glorious drink. When walking
back to the ship, it felt as if my feet were not on the ground (had
some of the same good stuff in Bizerte [Tunisia]).
We walked down a cobblestone quay to get to our ship.
Nearby was parked the Jean Bart - a beautiful new French battleship
- but for some reason her forward gun turret 16-inch guns were pointed
toward the sky. When we invaded that area, the French put the Jean Bart
right downtown in Casablanca, thinking that the Americans would not
shell it that near the city. Our battleship, The Massachusetts, was
new with radar. She stood 20 miles out and on the first salvo hit the
Jean Bart and broke her bow, putting her out of action and sparing the
city. The French were not happy about this turn of events. (They didn't
even like us in those days even as we were saving their 'meat house'.)
About 2 months later we had escorted a 100-ship convoy
into the Mediterranean. We dropped off at Bizerte [Tunisia]. There were
40,000 troops in this convoy plus a number of ammunition ships. We got
them all through in spite of a long night German air attack with 60
Junker torpedo bombers and high altitude bombers. The Wilhoite gunners
shot down a JU88 as it came up our smoke screen and released a torpedo
that just seemed to miss us by a few yards. On the way back with 100
empties and just out of Gibraltar, Normandy was invaded. The next day
we had word that the aircraft carrier Block Island had been torpedoed
and sunk off the Azores and the DE Barr torpedoed and the rear 1/3 blown
off. We were sent with another DE to give aid. The 3 DEs to the left
of the carrier escort had wall-to-wall survivors with nearly 1,000 from
the carrier and 200 from the DE, plus they were running low on food
and fuel. We took the Barr in tow and the other 3 left for Casablanca.
After about 2 days, a sea-going tug came out and towed the Barr into
Casablanca. I learned that the Barr was towed to the US, given a new
rear end and became a fast troop transport in the Pacific invasions.
One more thing. We go to a Boise [Cascade Paper Company]
Old Timers' lunch several times a year in Portland. Once, our newsletter
said that one of the members had died and that he had been the skipper
of the Barr when it was torpedoed in the Atlantic. I did not know this
and did not know him very well. Wished that I had as we could have swapped
many sea stories. So it goes - and so goes this dissertation.
Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2005
Email: Dad to Me
I want to respond to your e-mail where you seemed
to be making levity of the Wilhoite dropping a depth charge on a school
of fish. I can add another one to that myth - we depth-charged an iceberg
near Iceland. I have heard these stories repeated and know them not
to be true. Only 3 of us stood deck watch underway and I would have
known if these things were true. However, a school of fish, icebergs
and thermal currents and chaff that a sub threw out could fool many
sound gear operators in evaluating them, but our lads were too cagey
and experienced. However, if convinced by our operators that it was
a sub, I would have and did make a number of attacks. The mission of
our 6 DEs was to protect the carrier - their 1,000 crew - and our own
ship and crew.
This may be the culprit. Our task group chased a
German sub for 29 days - longest in the war - until we finally sank
it. Once, on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, our TG [Task Group] Commander
and others were convinced the sub was submerged in shallow waters on
the Grand Banks. A seaplane with a magnetic air-born detector was ordered
out and it thought it had pinpointed a large metallic object, then it
promptly crashed. We were joined by 4 Canadian Corvettes and the TFG
had the ten of us steam 500 yards apart and each ship drop a depth charge
every 500 yards, thereby covering about 16 square miles of suspect.
We didn't get any submarine but we did kill many tens of thousands of
big fish, so many that when we steamed through the area a week later,
dead fish were still floating all over - too much for the carrion eaters.
Another thing - we never dropped 'a' depth charge.
A standard pattern was 13 - always 13 - and I dropped a number of them.
Theory - better safe than sorry. We did get oil and wreckage a number
of times. We had 2 parallel racks on the stern that held about 10 each
- and 4 K guns on each side of the aft deck that fired a charge out
about 75 yards. Also, we had a Hedgehog located forward behind one of
the guns. This was loaded with 24 rockets, each weighing 25 pounds.
When fired, they sailed about 150 yards ahead of the ship and landed
in an elliptical pattern. They countermined - if one went off, they
all went off. We NEVER fired these. However, a DE in the Pacific sank
4 Japanese subs in 2 days using the Hedgehog.
Our 6 DEs always steamed about 2 miles ahead of the
carrier in a fan-shaped pattern. If one got a sub contact, it was immediately
reported by radio phone to all ships, and the carrier immediately took
evasive action such as right full rudder and stopping dead in the water
as it sometimes did. It was an old bucket of bolts.
Anyway, [addressing Me by name], don't believe everything
you read about the Wilhoite, but rest assured that everything I write
is 'from the Horch's mouth'. [Hey, any of you sibs of mine out there
have a last or maiden name of "Horch"?]
Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2005
Email: Dad to Me
Further on our battleship Massachusetts putting the
Jean Bart out of the war with one salvo at 20 miles, this had never
been done before or since by any battleship with one nine gun salvo.
And the Jean Bart was almost as new and powerful as our Mass.
I said it was a beautiful ship as all the French
warships were of racy designs, which didn't help them fight them. The
French had not pointed the big 16 inch guns up at the sky. When the
salvo hit and broke the bow, it knocked the gun turret off its base
and that is where the guns came to rest.
I kinda doubt that France was ever an ally of the
USA by choice - or friendly. When we were a colony of Great Britain,
the French were always inciting the Indians on our frontiers to fight,
even armed and paid them. Then the French and Indian war came along
- lasted 6 years and ended with the Treaty of Paris ceding Canada to
Great Britain and much land west of the Appalachian Mountains. When
our revolution came along, the colonists had little or no money to buy
arms, etc. Ben Franklin went to France and lived there for 8 years.
Dearly admired by the French, he was able to get many money contributions
from Louis IV without which we could not have fought the British. France
only did this as a way of getting back at the English.
InWW1, we came to the aid of the French - sent a
million Americans over to help win and terminate that long war. This
wasn't friendship but a necessity on our part to whip Germany and end
the war. No kudos from the French.
In WW2, France collapsed almost at the sight of the
German army and quickly led to the monumental evacuation of the British
Army at Dunkirk, where some French also escaped. De Gaulle escaped to
Britain and declared himself head of France. He was arrogant and wanted
to run the war and never got along with Churchill and Eisenhower. A
French division was formed in England along with pilots, etc.
While Germany occupied northern France and the Low
Countries and ruled them with an iron hand, southern France was only
occupied with token forces and a quisling government. The Vichy government
was established by the Germans to govern this area. This government
collaborated with the Germans - had to, I guess.
When the U.S. was going to land in N. Africa and
open up a second front and join Britain's fight against Germany in N.
Africa, a secret meeting was held with Petain (Vichy Governor) to try
and get him to not use the French fleet against us. He refused. Soon,
the British found large elements of the French fleet at Oran - sent
a large British force and asked the admiral for a pledge of neutrality.
When he would not do this, the British opened fire and sank 3 large
battleships and other ships. One battleship - probably wounded - escaped
with some destroyers.
Not long thereafter, the British located large elements
of the Italian fleet at Toulon and attacked them without warning as
they were at war with Italy - and sank or disabled 7 battleships and
When the U.S. landed in West Africa, again the elements
of the French fleet there were given a chance to be neutral. When they
refused, including those at Casablanca, they were promptly dealt with
from sea and air.
When our forces were approaching Paris, Eisenhower
decided to by-pass it because it had not much importance and he wanted
to spare the city. De Gaulle and the French division, however, rushed
to enter Paris, which they did finally, to Eisenhower's chagrin. However,
we already had some units in Paris. De Gaulle led a victory March through
Paris and declared himself head of France.
After the war, De Gaulle further showed his true
colors by going to Canada -highly French Quebec Province - and encouraged
the French there to secede from Canada. I think they have voted 2 or
3 times to do this but have failed by small numbers. (Also, it is probable
that the French government would not allow this to happen - shades of
our civil war.)
Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2005
Email: Me to Dad
Hey - if you read that "Shiver Me Timbers" doc which I just
sent you a minute ago, did you notice all my great Naval terminology?
I am doing similarly well with football terminology!
Lec is teaching me (although don't tell him I said that. He is very
modest and doesn't want to take any credit whatsoever for my knowledge
Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2005
Email: Dad to Me
Just want to say that I have been remiss in not writing
and thanking you for the nice John Steinbeck book, Tortilla Flat.
I have just started to read it and think I will like it. I know it is
monumental. I just finished reading a book - The Americanization
of Ben Franklin - that Becky sent. It was very good and enlightening.
Anyway, to make a funny - I always thought tortillas
were something to eat.
Also, the DVDs arrived today. Again, many thanks.
Just a tip - no need to send us anything Urgent Mail.
You can save 9 bucks using priority mail or regular and it gets here
nearly as fast. Also, our mail person usually brings such to our door
as it is too large to go into the locked mail box. On speed of mail,
visualize water flowing thru a pipe - a letter or package is put in
one end and the sheer volume pushes it out the other end.
Again, may thanks - hope all is swimmingly well instead
of skating well.
Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2005
Email: Me to Dad
Answering back to your two emails!
Those were some great stories about the Navy in the Mediterranean. I
don't know why I'm so fascinated with all that stuff. I guess I just
simply cannot imagine the mobilization of the entire world in this struggle
between good and evil. I can imagine that you guys who fought think
of it as one of the most incredible things you ever did.
More specifically, I can't imagine what it must have been like for you
personally or anybody who was bobbing around in the engine room of a
ship with the constant danger of being torpedoed from the skies and
from the U-boats below.
Do you know of any good books about the war at sea (all theaters)? I
am into more of the "grand histories" books, nothing too specific
about any one thing but just a GREAT read like that wonderful history, Dreadnought(although that was about the battleship race between
Britain and Germany leading up to WW I).
I hope you know I was kidding when I asked you if you met Humphrey Bogart
and Ingrid Bergman while you were in Casablanca! I didn't even know
there was an actual Rick's nightclub. Do you like the movie Casablanca?
[Dad's email to the commander of the USS Bogue]
There are many good stories and memories about our
[USS Wilhoite's] year with the Bogue in the N Atlantic. However, I will
only share this one with you. We were in the longest sub hunt of the
war and frustrating because the sub seemed to be able to get almost
too far away overnite.
One day, the task group commander sent one DE after
another on reported contacts. Finally, the Wilhoite was the only A/S
ship left, and he sent us off on another - probably bogus - contact
- the sub may have been using decoys or chaff. Shortly, the Commander
realized what jeopardy he had put the Bogue in, and he radiod for the
Wilhoite to return at flank speed while the Bogue made way toward us.
I was the officer of the deck, and we had no sooner returned and took
station a mile or so ahead of the Bogue when we got a valid submarine
contact. I immediately warned the Bogue on the high frequency phone,
and we went to GQ and started tracing the sub and finally dropped a
standard 13 charge pattern. Meanwhile, the Bogue took evasive action,
made a sharp turn away and stopped dead in the water. Fortunately, that
was the end of the sub scare, but I do recall that we saw some wreckage
and oil on the water. The finale to this story is that your planes dropped
some bombs or torpedos on a night radar contact. The next morning, there
was an oil slick 30 miles long. Your planes began attacking each end
of the slick until the sub was blown to the surface. Those able to abandon
the sub were picked out of the water by the DEs. This was the first
sub that the Navy knew of that was using a 'snorkel' that permitted
operating their diesels while submerged. This was enabling them to get
so far away while submerged.
I hope this story will bring back some fond memories.
The Bogue must have had thousands of great stories and, if like the
Wilhoite reunion, they often change. Thanks and have a great reunion.
[Email to Me]
Prior to our second convoy trip into the Mediteranean,
a smoke generator was installed in steering aft in the Brooklyn Navy
Yard - built by Combustion Engineering, the same people who burned the
Normadie in NY while converting it to a troop transport. We were only
able to test it in a brief sea trial prior to the convoy trip.
At night as we approached Gilbraltor, we were ordered to make smoke
for a half hour at dusk - the first time. After a while I was called
to the fan tail. The deck was red hot around the smoke nozzle and the
crew had a fire hose on it. I guess even some solder was melted off
the depth charges. The nozzle was only a few inches away from the rack.
We solved this problem by lowering the operating pressures, spraying
fuel and lube oil into the fire box. The Captain told me to write the
Bureau of Ships about this problem and our solution.
Back in the Brooklyn Navy Yard after the trip, I was called to the quarter
deck and when I got there a Navy Capatain was coming aboard with two
young civilians. The Captain of the Navy Yard said, "I have two
engineers from Combustion Engineering looking into why you changed the
operating procedures for the smoke generator and I want you to light
it off for them." I said, "Captain, do you realize how much
smoke this will throw out?" His reply was, "I said light it
You cannot believe how much smoke this put out and the wind gently blew
it out over the busy East River. Soon there were tug boats, garbage
scows, ferrys, big ships being covered in smoke and blowing their fog
horns. Then we heard sirens - fire trucks ambulances, shore patrol -
converging on our dock.
I looked at the Captain. He was pulling his chin and dancing up and
down, finally yelling "turn that damned thing off." Without
a word, he and his retinue left the ship. And the fog hung over that
river the whole night. What a mess. And we never heard any more about
changing the operating pressures.
What can I say---chalk up another one for the Wilhoite.
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Wilhoite Home Port - slide show - big page - be patient while