On Jan. 20, 1942, my ship, the USS Trinity was on course to Darwin, Australia. She was fleet oiler to the U.S. Navy’s Asiatic Fleet and the Alden and Edsall were our destroyer screen.
At 0620 hours the aft lookout in the mainmast spotted the phosphorescent path of a torpedo wake 25 feet to our starboard and running parallel with our course. We didn’t have time to think about our feelings at the moment; we were prepared for action.
In the next 10 minutes two more torpedoes were seen astern. All missed.
The Alden made contact with the enemy submarine and dropped two depth charges. Sonar contact with the sub was lost, indicating a kill. The following day, divers from the Holland located the sub’s hull on the bottom.
We of the Trinity were part of the 8,000 officers and men who manned 70 ships that comprised the Asiatic Fleet. In the first 85 days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, 22 of those ships were sunk by the Japanese during vicious, one-sided engagements and many smaller ships were scuttled near Manila in the Philippines. In less than three months, 1,380 of our men were killed.
These proud men fought their battle-worn 1918 ships to the absolute end. These ships staggered to sea time and time again against hopeless odds toward imminent disaster. The squandering of these ships and the loss of thousands of veteran sailors goes unlauded to this day.
The Japanese took 518 men prisoner; 103 of them died.
The history books and the government records have never fully recognized the fleet’s sacrifice.
Never to be forgotten are the men who still stand duty at the battle stations where they died, the wounded, the prisoners of war who still fight recurring diseases contracted in horrible prison conditions.
In 1992 I began trying to arrange a reunion for survivors of the Combined Forces of the U.S. Navy Asiatic Fleet. I wrote more than 500 letters and made countless phone calls. Former Navy Lt. Walter Ashe of North Carolina eventually took an interest and assumed the lead role. The reunion is now planned for Aug. 20-24, 1997, in Washington, D.C.
Our fleet has earned its place in the sun. Possibly we will receive some governmental recognition at this time.
MEMO: “Your turn” is a feature of the Wednesday and Saturday Opinion pages. To submit a “Your turn” column for consideration, contact Rebecca Nappi at 459-5496 or Doug Floyd at 459-5466 or write “Your turn,” The Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane 99210-1615.
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