Nov 18

Guest Post by Liza Schwartz: Remembering Frank Freeland

Thursday, November 18, 2010 12:01 AM

It was more than 70 years ago, but Jerry Hoenig clearly remembers the days he spent as a teenager with his best friend Frank Freeland. The two Brooklyn boys would go into Manhattan together to see the old boats at South Ferry and visit the aquarium.

“We used to pal around,” Hoenig recalled, sitting in his dining room on Long Island.

These memories are bittersweet for Hoenig, because only nine years after they graduated from Erasmus Hall High School, Lt. Freeland was killed during one of World War II’s fierce naval battles in the Pacific.

Unfortunately, Freeland’s fate is not unique, but alongside all the other stories that have come out of World War II, it stands up as one more example of how the Greatest Generation earned their name.

Undated photo of Lt. Frank Freeland, skipper of PT-44.

Before the war, Hoenig and Freeland enjoyed their high school years much like today’s students. The athletic Freeland was on the track team and Hoenig always cheered him on. When they weren’t busy with sports they were busy with girls. Hoenig’s grandfather had opened a synagogue, and although he didn’t usually attend services, Hoenig started to go occasionally. It paid off, because that’s where he met Lillian, his future wife. On one of their first dates they went to a party at the Waldorf, and Lillian brought her friend Francis along. Freeland “was sweet on her,” Hoenig recalled, and the couple stayed in touch even when Freeland went to the University of Arizona.

“He was inquisitive. He was a smart kid,” Hoenig said of his friend’s academic career. Hoenig went to work after high school and eventually owned a successful jewelry business.

As hints of war began to emerge in the late thirties Freeland decided he wanted to fly for real, not just on the track, and he began pilot training school at Randolph Field. He flunked out at the very last stage, but undaunted he applied to the Navy. Not only did he get in, but he became what was known as a “90-day wonder” and graduated as an ensign in just three months. When war broke out Freeland was assigned to the torpedo boat squadron. He came to say goodbye to Hoenig, but he couldn’t tell even his closest friend where he was going.

As the war raged on, life continued back home, and in the winter of 1942 Hoenig attended the bris of a high school friend’s son. At one point during the festivities, the friend pulled Hoenig aside and told him that he saw Freeland on the MIA list.

“I always checked the MIA list,” Hoenig said, but that week he hadn’t had a chance to look at it. Although Freeland’s official status remains MIA, he never returned from the war and was awarded the Silver Star posthumously.

In his last moments, Freeland exhibited leadership and bravery in the face of certain destruction. The night of December 11, 1942, almost exactly one year after Pearl Harbor, Freeland’s PT 44 and another boat in the squadron were assigned to hunt submarines in Guadalcanal, according to Hugh Cave’s Long Were the Nights. When the other boat got stuck in a reef, Freeland’s ship stayed to help until he was called to assist in the attack on approaching Japanese forces.

On the way back to continue helping the other ship, the PT 44 was caught in enemy fire and suffered a shell hit to the engine room. Everyone knew it was only a matter of minutes until the ship blew up, but Freeland, the ship’s skipper, quickly collected himself and tried to reach the engine room. Although he couldn’t make it through the flames, he called out orders and “the men rallied to the sound of his voice,” according to the book. These details were supplied by Charlie Melhorn, one of only two survivors of the blast that destroyed the ship just moments after Freeland’s courageous move.

Just like that night in Guadalcanal decades ago, there is hardly anyone around now to tell Freeland’s story. His parents passed away years ago. The other friend from high school who told Hoenig the bad news recently died. Even immediately after Freeland’s death, there was no memorial service in lieu of a funeral.

“No one thought of anything like that,” Hoenig said, explaining that people were busy with the war. Freeland’s parents mourned privately. After the war a PT boat was named in his memory, but Hoenig wants to make sure that there is some record of the man behind that name.

“I would just like to leave a little history of Frank,” he said.

Nov 17

Congress Allows Arming of Merchant Ships

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 12:01 AM

Prior to the official U.S. entry into the Second World War, American merchant ships carried needed supplies that supported the Allies in their desperate struggle against the Axis powers. Although German aircraft and submarines attacked American merchant ships when they entered war zones, the U.S. Neutrality Act of 1936 prevented them from being armed, even for self defense.

Pressure began to build for a change, and many sought to resurrect the idea of the Armed Guard Service, used during the First World War. Congress amended the Neutrality Act on 17 November 1941, barely three weeks before Pearl Harbor, to allow the U.S. Navy to arm merchant ships.

The section under the Navy Department for directing the Armed Guard Service during World War II, Op-23L, formulated doctrine, improved training, and overcame shortages of personnel and equipment. Primarily intended to protect the ship from enemy aircraft and submarines, the Navy’s standard Armed Guard detachment consisted of one 5-inch dual purpose gun, one 3-inch anti-aircraft gun and eight 20mm machine guns manned by one officer, 24 gunners and 3 communications personnel, the latter for liaison with Navy warships and shore stations.

The often overlooked service was a huge and expensive effort. Over the course of the war, the Navy armed 6,236 merchant ships and placed Armed Guards on almost all the 5,114 U.S. owned ships, a task requiring almost 145,000 personnel in service. Many of those ships were attacked at sea or in foreign harbors and the enemy sunk 569 U.S.-flagged ships at a cost of 1,810 men. Over 8000 of those that served in the Armed Guards received decorations or commendations, including five Navy Crosses, two Legions of Merit, and seventy-five Silver Stars.

The training and armament of these detachments gave U.S. merchant ships the chance to fight off enemy air attacks and the firepower to engage enemy submarines.

Nov 16

USS Kirk Saigon Evacuation Documentary Premiers at Smithsonian Institute

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 12:36 PM

From NHHC Public Affairs Officer, Lt. Cmdr. John M. Daniels, USN:

Washington, DC — The Navy premiered “The Lucky Few” at the Smithsonian Institution’s Baird Auditorium Nov. 11.

The documentary featured a little-known rescue operation in the tumultuous days following the fall of Saigon.

In late April, 1975 panic and hysteria ruled the streets of Saigon as North Vietnamese soldiers surrounded the capital city. Americans and South Vietnamese sought escape and refuge any way they could.

Produced by the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, “The Lucky Few,” chronicles one part of this story. The documentary is about USS Kirk (DE-1087) and its crew of 260 who played an unexpected, but considerable role in Operation Frequent Wind – the evacuation of personnel from Saigon.

For most, the images of the end of the Vietnam War came from the nightly news. Television stations showed the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy as Marine helicopters landed on the roof. But there was another story that didn’t get the same attention—the rescue of more than 30,000 refugees who found other ways to escape the frenzy. USS Kirk played a pivotal role by first rescuing, then escorting South Vietnamese military and civilians to freedom and a new life.

As Frequent Wind began, U.S. helicopters loaded with evacuees began heading out to sea, where a 7th Fleet task force awaited them. Just as suddenly though, hoards of unknown contacts began appearing on the ships’ radar screens. South Vietnamese army and Air Force Hueys, packed with refugees were following the American aircraft out to sea.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 16

OpSail 2012

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 10:09 AM

This 2012, Operation Sail and the US. Navy will once again bring the glory of tall ships to the American seaboard to celebrate the bicentennial of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

A parade of magnificent tall ships and warships, from over 25 nations, will sail to five historic ports: New Orleans, Norfolk, Boston, Baltimore, and New York City and join America in commemoration of this national milestone.

Operation Sail, (OpSail), a national non-profit organization dedicated to promoting goodwill among nations, and the development of youth through sail training, was conceived in 1961 by Frank Braynard and Nils Hansell. Following the endorsement of President John F. Kennedy, OpSail came to life in 1964 by successfully bringing the remaining tall ships of the world to New York City in conjunction with the 64’ World’s Fair.

Since then, OpSail events have taken place in 1976 for the Bicentennial, 1986 for Lady Liberties 100th, 1992 for the Columbus 500th, and 2000 for the Millennium—and each event has been larger than the last.

Nov 16

Rescue under Fire of Ironclad Lehigh

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 12:01 AM

During the American Civil War the vast majority of guns mounted in Confederate forts not be easily penetrate the armor on Union monitors. Even so, ironclads were fragile machines, especially vulnerable when stationary and struck repeatedly by enemy fire. When these iron behemoths accidently ran aground in the shallow coastal waters of the South, it sometimes took the heroics of flesh and blood to save them from destruction.

On the evening of 16 November 1863, Confederate batteries at Fort Moultrie, near Charleston, South Carolina, unexpectedly opened a very heavy, long-range fire on Federal troops in their field works on Morris Island. The Union Army commander, Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gilmore, immediately requested help from the Navy, and Rear Adm. John Dahlgren ordered the monitors on picket duty, including U.S.S. Lehigh, to move up and cover approaches to the Union position in case the Southerners intended to launch a boat attack. Cmdr. Andrew Bryson ordered his ship, Lehigh, to anchor in three and one half fathoms of water at half-ebb tide, believing the monitor would be perfectly safe. During the flood tide that night, however, the vessel swung and gently grounded on a sand bar.

Upon discovering after daylight that Lehigh was aground, nine different Confederate batteries opened an intense bombardment at about 2300 yards, firing over 300 rounds and striking the ironclad twenty-two times, including eleven hits on the deck plating, six of which broke through the armor. One hit struck the hull, bent the plating in and eventually started a leak that let in nine inches of water per hour. The monitors Nahant and Montauk came to her assistance, the former making three attempts to pass a line with small boats to begin a tow. Gunner’s Mate George Leland, Coxswain Thomas Irving, and Assistant Naval Surgeon William Longshaw twice succeeded in passing the line under heavy fire, only to have it severed by enemy guns. The third attempt by Seaman Horatio Young, Landsman William Williams, and Landsman Frank Giles succeeded as well, and this time it served to provide the tow that rescued Lehigh from her precarious position. Dahlgren praised all for risking their lives to save an invaluable warship, and the enlisted men each received the Medal of Honor for their heroism under heavy enemy fire.

Nov 15

“Saving American lives” Andrew P. Hayes and the hunt for the Taliban

Monday, November 15, 2010 12:01 AM

Army Green Berets fighting the enemy in Afghanistan on 15 November 2001 had discovered a hornet’s nest as Taliban tanks and armored vehicles rumbled up to within two miles of the special operators. They obviously intended to attack at any moment, and the men did not have the heavy weapons to stop tanks. They needed help, and fast.

Lieutenant Andrew P. Hayes of Fighter Squadron (VF)-102, the radar intercept officer of a Grumman F-14B Tomcat, launched as the lead of call sign Brando 01, a flight from aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). As Lieutenant Hayes assumed forward air controller duties he spotted the Taliban, and thinking quickly, decisively took command of the situation and attacked the Islamic extremists.

The tribesmen resolutely opened fire but Hayes dropped three laser-guided bombs and scored direct hits on two moving tanks and on a revetted armored vehicle. Meanwhile, his wingman released three additional GBU-12 laser-guided bombs which Hayes guided in to destroy two revetted tanks and a fuel truck. When the truck exploded about fifty Taliban leapt out of their positions and fled into the desert.

Over the next six hours Hayes continued to guide weapon deliveries by a dozen aircraft from Blueridge, Everest, Rocky and Sinai flights, and to track the Taliban as they scattered, until low fuel forced him to disengage and return for refueling. Hayes’ heroic actions resulted in the destruction of 33 vehicles, 27 of them armored.

“…The bigger accomplishment was saving American lives on the ground” the lieutenant humbly reflected afterward. “It was Americans helping Americans. It was my job to make sure they were safe while they continued their mission…” Lieutenant Hayes subsequently received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism that day.

Nov 14

Albert P. “Scoofer” Coffin and Guadalcanal

Sunday, November 14, 2010 12:30 PM

On the morning of 14 November 1942, the eleven transports of Rear Admiral Raizō Tanaka’s Outer South Seas Force Reinforcement Force were steaming southeast down the “Slot” toward Guadalcanal. Filled with more than 7,000 Imperial Japanese Army troops and tons of ammunition and supplies and escorted by the ships of three destroyer divisions, these ex-merchantmen were on a mission to reinforce the Japanese infantry units on Guadalcanal.

Spotted by American search aircraft after 0700 and again just before 0900, Tanaka’s force soon was targeted for attack. At about 1100, a combined Marine-Navy thirty-eight plane strike began taking off from Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field. This group included seven TBF Avenger torpedo planes of ENTERPRISE’s VT-10, under the command of Lieutenant Albert P. “Scoofer” Coffin, the squadron’s XO. Coffin, a 1934 graduate of the Naval Academy from Indianapolis, had the lead division of four TBFs. Arriving over the Japanese reinforcement force just after the completion of several unsuccessful attacks on the ships by SBD dive bombers from Guadalcanal, Coffin’s aircraft descended for torpedo attacks on two transports in the southern column. His lead division managed to put two torpedoes into the port side of one transport, while the trailing division, under Lieutenant Macdonald Thompson, put another torpedo into the starboard side of the other ship.

Scoofer Coffin was later awarded the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism” in combat in the Solomon Islands area during the period of 13-15 November 1942. At war’s end, he was commanding Carrier Air Group 19 in San Diego.

Nov 14

Apollo 12: All-Navy Crew

Sunday, November 14, 2010 12:01 PM

Apollo 12 was the second manned mission to the moon and the only one that boasted an all-Navy crew of Comdr. Charles “Pete” Conrad, Comdr. Richard F. “Dick” Gordon, and Comdr. Alan L. Bean.

Apollo 12 lifted off on 14 November and on 19 November Conrad and Bean became the third and fourth humans to walk on the moon.

The crew of Apollo 12 boated many accomplishments, including: the first precision manual moon landing; the first time the pilot maneuvered the Command Module into a different orbiting trajectory, a requirement for future missions; an extended visit to the lunar service–almost three times as long as Apollo 11–including two separate moonwalks and recovery of equipment from an earlier unmanned probe; and finally, the first deployment of an automated scientific analysis package, which remained operational for eight years and provided a wealth of information.

The excellent performance of the spacecraft, the crew, and the support personnel ranked this “all-Navy” mission as one of the most successful in NASA history.