Friday, April 19, 2019

THE UNSINKABLE CHARLIE BOTULA AND HIS MAGIC LST 920!

Brushy Creek Journal
Friday January 19, 2019
Sunny 58°F/14°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Partly Sunny 66°F/19°C in Falmouth, United Kingdom

It appears that the destinies of two great empires
 seem to be tied up
 in some Goddamned things called LSTs!
Winston Churchill to General Eisenhower, D-Day:  June 6, 1944 

Buonagiornata,
When my father told his best war story to my brother and me over Sunday dinner as we grew up, we hung breathlessly on every word! Our sister ship, LST 921, had just been torpedoed; he would tell us. I was on the bridge trying to see what had happened. Suddenly, I could see the wake of a torpedo coming straight at me!  But, before I could even react, our British escort ship steamed between the torpedo and us… and was blown out of the water! And…our dad would inevitably add, when the smoke finally cleared….the ship had disappeared!

Dad would then go on to relate how his ship stayed in the area to pick up survivors from the U boat attack on his convoy; how Captain Harry Schultz ordered the launch of the 920’s two small boats into the Dover Channel to rescue the fortunate sailors who had survived the attack; how Ensign Harold Willcox dove repeatedly from the Higgins boat into the chilly water to help the hapless sailors from the LST 921 into the boat and safety. All the while, he told us, officers on the bridge sighted the German sub’s periscope numerous times. The U-boat was obviously looking for an opportunity to kill again!
My brother Packy and I never tired of our dad’s war story, and we begged him to tell it, over and over again! But, as I would come to discover many years later when I applied my skills as a journalist – honed over many years in the news business – to the story, that Charlie Botula had only told his sons a fraction of the story!  Lieutenant Charles Botula, Jr., Executive Officer and second-in-command of USS LST 920, only knew part of the full story of 14 August 1944 himself. He died in 1965, well before all of the facts of that day would come to light.
My book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow  Target! was published by Amazon Books in August of 2016, shortly after I moved from California to Texas. Despite the fact that my research and writing on the subject, had taken more than a decade to complete, I was totally unprepared for  the response I got from my readers. The result is my second edition of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!
As the son of LST 920’s Executive Officer, I felt a special responsibility to tell the story completely. The book had just been published when I received an email from a family member of the torpedoed LST 921. The telegram received by the family following the attack said only that their relative was MIA – Missing In Action! Years had passed and the family had only been able to assume the worst. Only when this particular relative read the casualty list I included in the book, did the family finally have confirmation of the fate of their loved one – 72 years after the fact! Only then did the family of the hapless sailor have closure. It had fallen to me to relate the grim news to the family.
Chuck Watson in 1944
Another mystery involved the identity of the 921’s ship’s cook rescued by Motor Machinist’s Mates Lloyd Meeker and John Abrams from beneath a tangle of debris as they made their own escape from the flooding engine room of their sinking LST.  For that, I have to give credit to Curt Pederson of Ridgefield, Washington. Curt told me that the story of that rescue sounded very much like the wartime experience of his friend, Chuck Watson, a veteran of the WW2 US Navy. Sure enough, when I talked to Watson by phone a few days later, we confirmed the story. I related Chuck Watson’s story in my blog entitled “The Unsinkable Charlie Watson!”  (What else?) Here in 2019, at the publication of the second edition of my book, former LST 921 Ship’s Cook Charles Watson is a hale and hearty 97 years old. He lost one of his legs in the U boat attack, but otherwise is as fit as a fiddle.
My dad  always told my brother and me that his ship did not pick up any survivors from the British escort vessel. 
But I found out later that a few survivors were picked up by  a British rescue ship 
Able Seaman Bill Todd
out of the water along with Don Joost, the Engineering Officer of LST 921. This was confirmed in 2004 when I visited Joost at his home in Walnut Creek, California. My father did not know about this part of the story.
    Late in 2018, I received another email from Ms. Gillian Whittle, great-niece of Able Seaman William Todd, Royal Navy. Ironically, Bill Todd was also the ship’s cook aboard the ill-fated British Convoy escort ship – LCI(L)99. Ms. Whittle wrote, Bill, as he was known, was only 19 when he died. He was acting Able Seaman and actually the ship’s cook. We as a family are very proud of him.
The fate of the submarine, U 667, provides the final mystery. My dad never knew the identity of the U boat that attacked his convoy – EBC 72. Don Reed, my dad’s friend and the Communications Officer of LST 920, embarked on years of research following the war. It was Reed who identified the U 667. The rest of the information  about the sub came from the US  National Archives and the Kriegsmarine archive of the German Navy through the website: www.uboat.net. That’s when I learned that U 667 had struck a mine ten days after the attack on dad’s convoy as it returned from patrol. U 667 sank with all hands somewhere near its base at La Pallice, France, where it rests to this day.
Diver Christophe Moriceau
Enter French diver Christophe Moriceau with the final piece of my puzzle. Moriceau is an expert diver who belongs to a dive organization called L’Expedition Scyllias. Tof, as he is known to his compatriots, told me in his email that the wreck of U 667 had been located in 2002 along with the hulk of another U boat, but not positively identified until 2014. The Kriegsmarine archives revealed that U 667, under the command of Captain Karl-Heinze Lange, sank four ships on what turned out to be its final patrol: USS Ezra Weston, HMCS Regina, USS LST 921, and HMS LCI(L) 99. During the time U 667 was away from its base on patrol, the Royal Air Force laid a field of anti-submarine warfare mines across its return route back to base. Instead of heading home to a heroes' welcome, U 667 struck one of these mines on 25 August 1944, and immediately sank with Captain Lange and the entire crew. Moriceau sent me a series of photos of the wreck site of U 667 taken by Jean-Louis Maurette, the Chairman and Founder of L’Expedition Scyllias.

Retracing my father’s footsteps after so many years has given me, his older son, the perspective of history. It has been an incredible personal journey. I have gotten to know my family, especially my own father from a much closer point of view than I could when I was growing up into adulthood. During our visit, Don Reed, dad’s fellow officer on the LST 920 quipped to me, the crew was made up of kids from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The biggest body of water they had ever seen was a river or a lake. Our ship was welded together by women who had never been away from home. The enemy couldn’t keep up with us. Together, we went out and won a war!
Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books in Kindle or paperback. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]

© By Mike Botula 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019

LST 920: CHARLIE BOTULA’S LONG, SLOW TARGET!

Second Edition!
Thursday March 28, 2019
Cloudy 60°F/16°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Sunny 51°F/11°C in Cokeburg, Pennsylvania

Dzień dobry,

When the first edition  of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was finally published by Amazon Books in 2016, I breathed a big sigh of relief. It was the culmination of thirteen years of  research and writing which followed decades of procrastination, but now my family story was complete. I could now move onto other projects. But, I didn’t count on my dad’s shipmates, or their friends and family members or the complete strangers that my father’s war-time story connected with, and the new information they provided. I had started my quest with only the war story that our dad told my brother Packy and me over Sunday dinner for  years as we were growing up.  It was the wartime story of the day that his convoy was attacked by an enemy submarine off the coast of England.
The New Edition


When my father died suddenly in 1965, my brother and I were suddenly tasked with the wrenching and mammoth chore of closing up the house we had grown up in and getting it ready for sale. I had to fly in from Arizona and Packy came back home from college in Buffalo, New York. The house was pretty much like our mother had left it when she died of cancer five years before. Her death ended a decades-long love story and left our dad devastated. Our house had become a makeshift shrine to her memory. The clothes were given to  charity thrift shops. The household furnishings were sold or just given away, but my parents papers and family photographs were boxed up and shipped to my new home in Arizona, to be sorted out at a later time. What I could not foresee was the amount of time that would pass before my attention  my attention would focus again on those boxes of Botula family flotsam and jetsam.



Don Reed in 2003
Nearly forty years had passed when I posted a note in 2003 on a message board of a special interest internet site devoted to World War Two veterans who had served in the U.S. Navy.  To my astonishment, I received a reply a few days later! Mike, I was with your father on the commissioning crew of LST 920, served with him during all his time on the ship in Europe and the Pacific, and took his place as Exec when he left. Let me know how to get in touch! Don Reed. Ensign and later, Lieutenant Don Reed was the LST 920’s communications officer, and ultimately its last Captain. By this time, I was living in Sacramento, California. Since Don lived near San Francisco in the Bay Area, it was  easy for us to arrange a face to face meeting. So, one afternoon, I invited my son Michael along and we drove together to the Alameda Naval Base where Don was working as a volunteer on the museum ship USS Hornet.

My son Michael had never known his grandfather, since he had been born eight years after his death. So, the prospect of meeting one of the officers that my dad had served with during the war appealed to both of  us. That night over dinner, I decided that enough time had passed. I would tell my father’s story. Next, I contacted the U.S. LST Association and secured about a dozen names and addresses of their members. That’s how I met Don Joost, the engineering officer of LST 921. A few weeks after Michael and I had dinner with Don Reed, I drove over to Walnut Creek, California and spent the afternoon with Joost. Joost and John Edmunds, a member of the LST 921’s engine room crew had actually been among the survivors rescued by my dad’s ship. Several others from both LST crews sent me their accounts of that long-ago August afternoon. The initial result of these conversations was my article for The Scuttlebutt, the US LST Association’s magazine. After that, I decided to expand my efforts and write a book.
     Another key player in my research was ex-Seaman Larry Biggio, who had created an internet site devoted to the memory of his old ship, the LST 920. When he retired, Biggio sent me his files. And for a time, I managed his website through my own site, www.mikebotula.com. From the National Archives, I obtained photos of LST 920 being launched and an aerial shot of the ship on her maiden voyage in her Pacific Theater camouflage colors. I also requested copies of the ship’s logs for 1944.

One of the ironies of the story was the fact that the identity of the attacking U-boat was a mystery to the crews of both LSTs. My father died without learning the identity of the submarine that attacked his convoy and sank his sister ship as well as the British escort ship with heavy loss of life to both. I tracked that down through a specialty website devoted to the Kriegsmarine and its U-boats, Uboot.net.

The decision to write a second edition centers on new contacts I had after the book’s publication in August 2016. Curt Pedersen sent me an email describing the rescue of the LST 921’s cook. The hapless ship’s cook, who is unidentified in the first edition sustained major injuries in the attack, and eventually lost a leg as a result. Neither rescuer, John Edmunds or Lloyd Meeker could  remember their shipmate’s name, but Pedersen told me that his former neighbor, Charles Watson, told a similar story. Curt gave me Watson’s phone number and I was able to confirm his account in short order.

Moriceau dives the wreck of U 667
The other story concerns the fate of the submarine, U 667. All my information obtained through Uboot.net was that the sub struck a mine ten days following the attack on LST 921. In the summer of 2018, I received a series of emails from French diver Christophe Moriceau, who told me that he had actually dived to the U 667’s  wreck site. The German High Command required daily radio check-ins from each of its submarines. When U 667 failed to check in on 25 August 1944, the Kriegsmarine considered it lost. Moriceau, a diver belonging to a French divers organization L’Expedition Scyllias, also told me that the identity of U 667 wasn’t fully confirmed until 2014 by an expert in Kriegsmarine warfare. The location of what is now the U 667’s gravesite is a few miles off the coast of La Pallice, France, the sub’s home port.

Able Seaman Todd, RN
The final mystery concerns the British escort ship – LCI(L)99. As it turns out, both LSTs and
LCI(L)99 were built in the same shipyard at Hingham, Massachusetts. The British ship was turned over to Britain under the Lend-Lease Agreement in 1942. My father had a vivid memory of seeing a torpedo heading straight for his ship when the British vessel steamed between the U 667’s torpedo and my dad’s LST 920 and was blown out of the water. An English lady named Gillian Whittle wrote to tell me that her great uncle, William Todd was killed in the attack. Young Able Seaman Todd was 19 when he died to save my father’s ship.



Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]

© By Mike Botula 2019








Sunday, February 17, 2019

Anzio at 75!

MikeBo’s Blog
Sunday February 17, 2019
Partly Cloudy 54°F/12°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Clear 54°F/12°C in Anzio, Lazio, Italy
Buonagiornata,
The other day, when I walked Lola over to the mail center at my apartment complex, I reached into my mailbox and pulled out my copy of LST Scuttlebutt, the newsletter of the U.S. LST
Mike Botula at Polish Military Cemetery
at Montecassino, Italy
Association, which I joined back in 2003 when I first began researching my father’s Navy service in World War 2.  The cover story this month is devoted to the  75th Anniversary of the Allied invasion at Anzio, about 32 miles south of Rome and was the first step in the long, bloody offensive which resulted in the liberation  of the Italian capital on June 5th  1944 – the day just before the Allied landings at Normandy on D-Day, June 6th 1944. The Normandy landings completely overshadowed the Fall of Rome and the actions of the general who commanded the Allied Fifth Army, General Mark Clark.  The Anzio campaign commanded the world’s attention in the months between January and June of 1944 and reverberated throughout history for years afterward. It was one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war for the Americans who fought their way up the boot of Italy. And in 2017 on one of my visits with Michael and Laura in Rome, I asked them to indulge me and take me to the monastery at Montecassino and the beach at Anzio.
When I returned to Texas, I devoted one of my Rome Diary pieces to the visit.
      Here is the blog:


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Unsinkable Charlie Watson - UPDATE!

Brushy Creek Journal
Wednesday January 16, 2019
Cloudy 48°F/9°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Rain Showers 47°F/8°C in Falmouth, United Kingdom
Buonagiornata,

Shortly after my book LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  was published in the summer of 2016, I found a note from Curt Pederson in my e-mail inbox. Pederson is a neighbor of
Charles Watson - 1944
one of the surviving crewmembers of LST 921, one of the ships torpedoed in the U boat attack on my dad’s convoy. The other ship was a British escort vessel, HMS LCI(L)99. Thanks to Pederson, I was now able to fill in a glaring void in my narrative – the name of the ship’s cook who figured in a heroic rescue by two of his shipmates. I had obtained  the first person accounts of two Machinist’s Mates who had themselves made a dramatic escape from the engine room  of the sinking rear portion of their stricken Landing Ship. As they raced from the engine room to the top deck and safety, John Abrams and Lloyd Meeker told me about hearing the ship’s cook  yelling for help. Their shipmate lay, badly injured with two broken legs and a broken arm, in a tangle of cabinets and shelving that had blocked a passageway of the LST 921. While Abrams and Meeker could still recall the rescue, too many years had passed since that sunny August day in 1944 when their ship had been attacked to remember the name of the sailor they had rescued.

So, when I opened my email that morning, I found Pederson’s note telling me about his friend and neighbor of 25 years, WWII amputee Chuck Watson.  We knew he was a cook on LST 921,  Pederson told me,  and knew his ship was torpedoed.  He never knew much about August 14, 1944 until I started to print out your blog on LST 920 and your father.  You filled in so many unanswered questions!

Chuck’s ordeal is described in an eyewitness account by LST 921 crew member Lloyd Meeker, who survived the torpedo attack after a harrowing escape from the ship’s flooding engine room. LST 920 took us to Falmouth, England to a Navy hospital, survivor Lloyd Meeker remembered. There were lots of cuts and broken bones. The cook was injured the most. The last time I saw him, he had both legs and an arm in casts. He was in traction and his jaw was wired shut. For me, it was good to get out of my oily clothing.

In his account, Abrams told me  how he and Meeker wrestled Watson free and got him to safety on the top deck. Just before they slipped Watson into the water to be picked up by the crew of one of the small boats from my dad’s ship, LST 920, one of them took off his life jacket and put it on Watson. Finally, Meeker recalled, we were told that 43 survivors and one body were taken off the LST 920. All of the rest of the men went down with the stern section. Watson spent months in the hospital and eventually doctors were forced to amputate his injured leg, but he  otherwise fully recovered from the ordeal. Watson is now 97 years old.

Half of the crew of LST 921 went to the bottom of the Dover Channel   when the stern section sank a few minutes after it was hit by the U 667’s torpedo. Chuck Watson was one of the lucky ones. The crew of HMS LCI(L)99 wasn’t so lucky. As my father watched from the bridge of LST 920, the U 667 launched a second torpedo directly at his ship. We were goners, my father recounted after his return from the war. But, just then, the British Escort ship came between us and the German torpedo and was blown out of the water.

One of the crew members of HMS LCI(L)99 was 19 year old Able Seaman William Todd. Like Watson, Todd was his ship’s cook. Todd was not as fortunate as his counterpart aboard LST 921.
Able Seaman Bill Todd, RN
Todd was among those who died on that sunny August day in 1944. From her home in England, Todd’s great-niece, Gillian Whittle read my book and wrote me. I don’t know a great deal about my great uncle William Todd as he only has on surviving brother left and he is very frail now. Bill was only 19 when he died, and he came from Chorley, Lancashire, England. I imagine he was called up when he was 18. We as a family are very proud of him, and I go to Kent, England when I can to lay flowers at the Naval Memorial. We can’t let the memories of these great people be forgotten. Gillian Whittle also attached a photo of her late great uncle Bill. It is among her mementoes now along with his wartime medals, which she wears proudly on Remembrance days to keep his memory alive. If he had survived the war, William Todd would be 94, about the same age as his counter part aboard LST 921, Chuck Watson.

A lot of the men who escaped from the sinking LST 921 would not have survived the attack of U  667 if it weren’t for the skipper of LST 920. Lieutenant Harry N. Schultz, who disobeyed standing orders and ordered his ship to turn around and pick up survivors instead of remaining with the convoy, which continued to steam on to Falmouth, England. Chuck Watson never knew who, specifically, was responsible for saving his life until his friend and neighbor Curt Pederson sent him a copy of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!

Nearly a century has  passed since that afternoon in August 1944, but it’s not too late to say Thank you for your service, to Chuck Watson, USNR;  Bill Todd, RN and the other sailors who came under attack by U 667 that day.  
Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]

© By Mike Botula 2019

Friday, December 7, 2018

Pearl Harbor: First Blood! A Sailor’s Story


MikeBo’s Blog
Sunny 80°F/27°C at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Rain 49°F/10°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Buonagiornata miei amici,

When I sat down at my computer to write my book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow, Target! in 2016, I realized it was an incomplete story.  The story that my father told me and my 
brother as we grew up concerned a U boat attack on his convoy off the coast of England in August
USS Arizona Under Attack
Pearl Harbor 1941
1944. LST 920’s sister ship, LST 921 lost half its crew when it was torpedoed by the U 667, and a British escort ship, LCI(L)99 was blown out of the water by a second torpedo aimed at my father’s ship. LST 920’s Captain, Harry N. Schultz disobeyed a strict war-time order to not break away from the convoy for any reason! After repeated messages to his command requesting permission, and in spite of repeated orders to the contrary, Captain Schultz disobeyed that wartime order, in order to rescue survivors from the two ships. My father, who served as Schultz’ Executive Officer aboard the 920, never understood his Captain’s decision to deliberately disobey a wartime order to facilitate that rescue. Captain Schultz never confided any of his previous wartime experiences. It was only many years after the war, when I was researching my book and communicating with Schultz’s family, that I  became aware that the seeds of his heroic decision were planted at Pearl Harbor, on Sunday December 7, 1941.


And that, gentle reader, is my contribution to the many anniversary stories you will see on this seventy-seventh anniversary of the day that Franklin Delano Roosevelt called A Day Which Will Live in Infamy!

Sunday Morning December 7, 1941 was the perfect day in a Pacific Island paradise, until about 8
Destroyer Jarvis
o'clock that morning!  While my parents and other Americans were listening to their radios or looking at their maps to see where Pearl Harbor was located, World War Two, for Petty Officer Harry Neil Schultz, had already begun. Schultz was at Pearl Harbor, aboard the Destroyer USS Jarvis (DD 393) when the first Japanese bombs started falling on the U.S.  fleet.

In their all-out attack, the key targets for the Japanese were the battleships. They sank Arizona, California, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. USS Arizona still rests on the bottom, a war grave with more than a thousand valiant souls still aboard. In the midst of all of this flame and carnage, one scrappy destroyer, USS Jarvis, escaped to fight another day, and took her fair measure of vengeance on the attackers.

Harry N. Schultz was the oldest of seven sons born to Mr. and Mrs. Herman Schultz of 801 “A” Street, Pasco,  Washington. Pasco is inland, about 200 miles east of Seattle. By October 1943, five of the Schultz brothers – Harry, Dick, Carl, Arthur and Elmer would be in uniform serving their country, and the two youngest Schultz boys – Paul Herman, 13 and Harold Eugene, 6 would be waiting their  turn to serve. Harry had enlisted in the peacetime Navy in 1937 and was assigned to the Jarvis right
Schultz in 1937
after his basic training. When an article appeared in the Pasco Herald, praising the elder, immigrant Schultzes for their contribution to the war effort, Harry’s younger brothers were in various military branches on various wartime assignments. Arthur, 28, was a Sergeant in the Army in North Africa.  Brother Richard, 26, was a Corporal in the infantry in North Africa. Carl Schultz, 22, was in the Army Signal Corps in Australia and brother Elmer, 18, was also in the Navy.  Even though he planned on making the Navy his career, a commission as an officer was the farthest thing from Schultz’ mind on the morning of December 7, 1941.
 

The Destroyer Schultz served aboard was named for a heroic Navy Midshipman, James C. Jarvis, who served in the fledgling U.S. Navy during an early conflict with France. Midshipman Jarvis was born in 1787 and appointed as a Midshipman from the State of New York in 1799. As was the custom of the day, Midshipman Jarvis went to sea aboard the famed frigate Constellation. In 1800, what the history books describe as a quasi-war, broke out between the fledgling United States and its revolutionary benefactor France over freedom of the seas for American shipping. A similar dispute with Great Britain would later lead to the War of 1812. During its battle with the French frigate La Vengeance Deux in February 1800 young Jarvis was ordered aloft to secure the Constellation’s mainmast. At one point he was ordered down for fear the mast might topple. The young midshipman disobeyed the order yelling down to the officer who gave the order, My post is here. I can’t leave it. The mast crashed down, and Jarvis went over the side with the rigging and was drowned. He was 13 years old.

On the Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, Schultz was aboard the second destroyer named for Midshipman Jarvis (DD 383) moored next to another destroyer, the USS Mugford (DD 389), and their tender, USS Sacramento, a converted 1914 vintage gun boat. The after-action reports of all three ships show the Japanese attack beginning at 0758 on that Sunday morning. General Quarters was immediately sounded, and all three destroyers opened fire on the attacking aircraft. The ship’s log notes that the ship’s anti-aircraft machine guns commenced firing at 0804 hrs, with the Jarvis’ five-inch gun firing the first shot of any five-inch gun in the harbor 60 seconds later.

USS Jarvis was credited with shooting down four enemy aircraft during its escape from Ford Island to the open sea. It is believed that Jarvis was the first to draw enemy blood on that bloody Sunday. Among the seamen receiving special commendation for their action during the Pearl Harbor attack was Quartermaster First Class Harry Neil Schultz, who had been with the Jarvis since it was commissioned in 1937. So much for the wartime myth, that the Americans at Pearl Harbor were so surprised by the suddenness and ferocity of the Japanese attack, that they drew no Japanese blood on that long-ago Sunday. The crew of the Jarvis shattered that myth almost immediately.

About two weeks later, the USS Jarvis left Pearl Harbor along with the carrier Saratoga as part of the Task Force assigned to relieve the Japanese attack on Wake Island. But, in a controversy that resounds to this day, that mission was scuttled, and the Japanese took Wake Island on December
The Wilson Brothers
23rd. In January 1942, while on an anti-submarine patrol the Jarvis rescued 182 survivors of a Japanese torpedo attack on the fleet oiler Neces. By July 1942, Schultz and the Jarvis were on their way to the Solomon Islands to take part in the invasion of Guadalcanal on August 7th. In the Jarvis’ crew with Harry Schultz were two young brothers, Lans and Billy Wilson. It would be their fate in the later action at Guadalcanal that would enter into the fateful decision by Shultz later in the war to disobey his orders. The transport ships that Jarvis was escorting came under heavy attack by the Japanese and the Jarvis took a Japanese torpedo but remained afloat. Nine of the 26 attacking Japanese planes had been able to penetrate the American defenses. Following  that battle, the Jarvis steamed to Tulagi where seven wounded crewmen were transferred to a hospital on shore. Quartermaster Harry Schultz went ashore with them to make sure they were cared for. That assignment saved his life.
 

The Jarvis’ skipper, Lt. Commander William Graham, Jr. then ordered the Jarvis to steam for Sydney, Australia for repairs, unwittingly ordering his ship into the maelstrom known as the bloody  Battle of Savo Island. Shortly after, she steamed across Iron Bottom Sound and ran into the approaching fleet of Japanese Admiral Mikawa’s heavy cruisers, which had mistaken the Jarvis for an American heavy cruiser. As she continued to steam westward, the Japanese again attacked her with a force of 31 planes, raking her with machine gun fire and torpedoes. USS Jarvis went to the bottom of Iron Bottom sound at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on August 9th with all hands. The two Wilson brothers, Billy and Lans were among the 233 crew members who died that day. The loss of Jarvis’ shook  Quartermaster Harry Schultz to his core. In one fell swoop, the Japanese had wiped out his entire family of shipmates.

Rising through the ranks, Schultz earned his commission in 1944, and took command of USS LST 920, a tank landing ship that saw action in Europe and the Pacific. Schultz  was one of only three
Harry Schutz in 1945
members of the LST’s crew of 110 or so who had ever been to sea. Commissioned in June 1944, LST 920 along with its sister ship LST 921 made a safe journey across the Atlantic during late July and early August 1944, and on August 14, 1944 was headed, in another convoy, from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England, when the convoy was attacked by the German submarine U 667.  The first torpedo broke LST 921 in two, and the second torpedo which was aimed at my father’s ship, blew the British escort ship LCI(L)99 out of the water.

The three attacked ships shared a common history. All three; the two LSTs and the British escort ship had been built at the same shipyard in Massachusetts – the Bethlehem Hingham Shipyard. The crews of the two LSTs trained together at Camp Bradford, Virginia prior to their commissioning. In fact, in a coincidence eerily reminiscent of the ill-fated Wilson brothers aboard the Jarvis, twin brothers were serving aboard the LST 920 and LST 921. Aboard the LST 921 was Seaman  Jerry Hendrixson, twin brother of LST 920 Seaman Harold Hendrixson. Unlike Lans and Billy Wilson, who were lost off Guadalcanal, the Hendrixson brothers were eventually reunited. I’m sure that Captain Schultz was also mindful of his other shipmates from the Jarvis, who lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor only to be lost off Guadalcanal. Thus, was put in motion for Schultz’s life-saving decision.

Following the attack on his convoy, Schultz twice ordered Radioman Fred Benck to send messages to his Command requesting permission to return and rescue survivors. Twice, his request was denied. Finally. Schultz made his decision. The order was repeated, DO NOT BREAK CONVOY! Schultz responded, TO HELL WITH HIM! LST 920 turned and returned to pick up survivors from her sister ship, LST 921. When the LST 920 eventually reached Falmouth, Captain Schultz was ordered ashore to face a court-martial. Disobedience during wartime, will not earn the offender any medals for valor.  However, Harry Schultz argued that an ancient law of the sea – rescuing the survivors of a maritime disaster – takes precedence, even in wartime. He was exonerated and returned to his ship.

LST 921 survivor  John Abrams told me many years later, We were left, all by ourselves feeling helpless. We all knew that the German sub was still in the area. Just as all hope seemed lost, we saw your dad’s ship coming back. We all realized that Captain Schultz had disobeyed orders to come back to get us. I owe my life to that man!

Caio!
      Mike Botula

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]

© 2018

Sunday, November 4, 2018

LST 920 Ship’s Log-UPDATE!

MikeBo’s Blog
Cloudy 55°F/13°C in Falmouth, England
Clear 52°F/11°C in Cedar Park, TX
Buonagiornata miei amici

 To date, my book, LST 920! Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books)  has not made an appearance on the New York Times Best Seller List.  Nor has it been selected by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Instead, it is one of those so-called vanity books that is self-published by an author who has convinced himself that he has a great story to tell.

LST 920! Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) is the story of one day in the lives
of the crew of a World War 2 Tank Landing Ship that was attacked  by a lone German U boat on 14 August 1944 as it steamed from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England. My father, Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. was the second in command of LST 920, and he quite often told my brother and I how his life, and the lives of his crew were saved by the crew of a British escort ship, who sacrificed their ship and their lives because it was their duty to protect and defend an ally.

The incident, which became a defining moment in my father’s life occupies a few, scant lines in the ship’s log:

LST 920 Ship’s Log: Monday 14 August 1944
      1654 hours:  First hit on LST 921, directly astern of us. Presumably by torpedo.
      1654 hours: General Quarters sounded
      1656 hours: LCI #99 (British) hit by torpedo presumably
      1657 hours: All stations manned and ready; approximate position…50°54’ N, 4°45’ W
      1657 hours: Relieved on conn by Captain Schultz and went to GQ station
       Ensign John J. Waters, Officer of the Deck

After crafting an article on the incident for The Scuttlebutt,  the  publication of the United States LST Association, I decided that I had enough material to warrant writing a short book. I did not realize how many lives I would touch. Here are few of the stories I can pass along:

Able Seaman William Todd, Royal Navy, age 19 -  Good morning, I don't know a great deal
Able Seaman William Todd
about my Great Uncle William Todd as he only has one  surviving brother left and he is very frail now and cannot remember a lot.
Gillian Whittle, Seaman Todd’s great-niece.

William Todd was aboard the British escort ship that took the torpedo intended for LST 920. My father saw the whole incident. I never knew that Todd was one of the casualties until my research turned up a crew list for the British ship, LCI(L) 99.  Gillian Whittle, Seaman Todd’s grand-niece read my account of his death and wrote me and sent me the photo of her great uncle.

Bill as he was known was only 19 when he died, and he came from Chorley, Lancashire, England. I imagine he was called up when he turned 18, I don't know his birthday. He was acting able seaman and he was actually the ships cook. We as a family are very proud of him and I go to Kent, England when I can to lay flowers at the naval memorial. I am afraid I don't know much else about my Uncle, but I have his medals and I had the privilege of  wearing them proudly on remembrance parade for him one year and we keep his memory going. 

The Unsinkable Charlie Watson -  A former neighbor, Curt Pederson, wrote me about the unidentified ship’s cook that had been rescued from the sinking stern section of LST 921 by his shipmates John Abrams and Lloyd Meeker. Charlie Watson had been badly injured when the U 667’s torpedo struck his ship, but in the heat of the rescue, neither Abrams nor Meeker was able to identify the lucky ship’s cook. Watson spent months in a Navy hospital  recuperating, and eventually one of his legs had to be amputated.

I was trapped below deck, Watson told me by phone years later. Both my legs and one arm were broken. I was trying to crawl out when Meeker grabbed me and got me topside, Watson told me. Meeker got me into the water so I could be pulled onto a raft with some other guys from the ship. Then Watson told me a story that I’m sure he has told countless times since the torpedoing of his ship. All of a sudden, I could see a torpedo trail bubbling through the water, coming straight at me. All I could do was stare at it!  What happened next, I asked him? Damned torpedo zipped by right below me. It didn’t hit anything though. I told him about my father standing on the bridge of his ship earlier watching as a torpedo came straight amidships at the LST 920. At the last split-second, the British escort ship came alongside and took the U 667’s torpedo full force and was blown out of the water.

 What I didn’t know until Watson told me his story, was that my dad’s ship escaped being torpedoed a second time. As Watson was being hoisted aboard the 920, the Captain, Harry Schultz ordered a sharp turn as an evasive maneuver. Another torpedo, fired by the U 667, passed close by, but missed the ship.

Christophe Moriceau, French Diver – Following its attack, U 667 stalked my dad’s convoy for a
U 667
day or two, then unable to find other targets, it headed back to its base at La Rochelle, France. On August 25, 1944, U 667 received a dose of its own medicine when it struck a mine and sank with all hands. Moriceau continues the story from that point, Its wreck is now staying down off La Rochelle as you know but the story is more complicated than it would appear. Indeed this 70-meter-long wreck was discovered around 1973 by a diver. At that time, one knew that two Type 7 U-Boote had disappeared off La Rochelle: U 263 during deep sea trials and U 667 when coming back from her last patrol. Both in 1944.

 Moriceau dove the site in 2005 but could not firmly
Moriceau at U 667 Wrecksite
identify the wreck as U 667 because of heavy damage forward of the conning tower. There the story rests until 2014, when the hulk was finally identified through photographs by Dr. Axel Niestl
é, an expert on unterseebooten. There it rests today, off the French coast near La Rochelle with Kapitӓnleutnant Karl-Heinz Lange and the entire crew.

My father died in 1965, never knowing the identity of the German U boat that attacked his convoy, nor the names of the crew of the British escort ship that took the blast from the torpedo that was meant to sink his ship. In wartime, the enemy has no name!

C’est la guerre!
      MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]




Thursday, November 1, 2018

El Diá de los Muertos!


Huck-A-Buck Chronicles: MikeBo’s Blog
Sunny 60°F/ 16°C in Riverhead, NY
Cloudy 63°F/17°C in Cedar Park, TX
Dzień dobry, każdy!
Good Morning, Everybody!

 [An earlier version of this story first appeared on the day following Halloween in 2014.]

 Buenas Dias,
   Today is the first day of November…the day after Halloween….All Saints Day. It is also El Día de los Muertos or The Day of the Dead. It’s a national holiday throughout Mexico, and it’s widely observed
Dana, Mike, Michael Botula at Mary and Charles Gravesite
in the United States as well, particularly among our Hispanic population. The observance takes place on the first day of November, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Traditions include putting up private altars honoring the deceased and decorating them with sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. Families of the departed also visit their relatives’ graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.

September 27, 2013 - Roanoke Avenue Cemetery, Riverhead, New York
I had been gone from my home town most of my adult life. While I had been born in New York City, I had grown up in Riverhead and went all the way through high school here. I had come here one sunny day in April of 1961 with my brother Packy, and our father Charles to bury our mother, Mary. On another sad day in November of 1965 my brother and I returned to bury our father, Charles. Following their funerals, my brother Packy and I set to the task of closing up the home where we had grown up and get it ready to be sold. An unseen gate slammed shut on our idyllic childhood, and we both moved on with our lives. Now, on this sunny day in September forty eight years later, “Skip” and Charlie Botula are still resting in their quiet place marked by two granite headstones, their repose shaded by an old oak tree. It’s not quite November 1st, but this is now my own personal Día de los Muertos. After visiting my parents’ graves, I walk along the path through the cemetery.  My stroll takes me on a tour of my childhood. Across the way from mom and dad is “Papa Nick” Meras, the smiling Greek man whose family still runs the confectionary where we used to gather after school. Down the way is my third grade teacher, Ramsey Walters. Around the bend is my old scoutmaster, Alton Medsger. Across the way, in a plot marked by a tall granite monument are my parents’ best friends, Fred and Beverly Alexander. Glancing down at the headstones as I walk along, I see so many family friends.

Saturday April 29, 1995-Calvary Cemetery - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
   I had come to this gravesite for the first time in 1947 with my father when I was six years old. It was the first time that death had touched our family, and I was overwhelmed by my grief. My dad’s brother, Adolf had died suddenly at the family homestead on Ward Street. Forty eight years later I had returned to say farewell to my dad’s other brother, my beloved Uncle Ted. My own dad was not here – he and my mother had passed away thirty years before and were buried back in my home town. For me, the two gravesite visits were like placing bookends on either side of important volumes of my family’s history. I viewed the moment as a flashback with the scene beginning in a chaotic drama in black and white and quickly flashing forward in time to a similar but continuing as a contemporary drama in full color. As is the custom in many Roman Catholic cemeteries, we said goodbye to Uncle Ted at a short service in the cemetery chapel and then we left to let the graves crew do its job. There were no graveside goodbyes. After the chapel farewells, my cousins, my brother and I among them, decided on our own to visit the family gravesite. There are three generations of Botula’s buried at this plot, there are other family members resting nearby. It wasn’t a Dia de los Muertos visit, that’s not part of my Czech heritage, but the sentiment was the same. For the cousins, Packy, Anna Marie, Richard and Frank and me, this became our own brief reunion. We were a close-knit group of cousins, and, we hadn’t been together in many years. Uncle Ted’s passing was a signal moment in the story of our family.

   Maybe it’s because of my own love of history, but I love to visit old cemeteries. There are so many stories there. The catacombs, church crypts and necropoli of Rome, colonial era cemeteries along the eastern seaboard of the United States, Gold Rush and Frontier cemeteries in California, Nevada and Arizona. Our own Arlington National Cemetery. There is the small family gravesite behind an old Victorian home in Mariposa, California. The people that own the house acquired the small family burial ground when they acquired the property and now care for it with the same loving care as if it sheltered members of their own family. I think as I walk along that the history of any society lives in its cemeteries.

After all my adventures in life, I now understand that this is where I must return some day, even as a symbolic gram or two of ash. Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem comes to my mind.
            ''This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.''

October 31, 1992 Halloween – Santa Ana Cemetery - Santa Ana, California
   Now, let’s go back to a sunny Saturday afternoon on Halloween weekend 21 years before. My wife, Donna and I are on a guided walk through the old, historic cemetery in Santa Ana, California. Our walk takes us past the graves of many notable local historical figures. There are mayors, prominent members of the clergy; a famous Sheriff, Theo Lacy, is buried here, too. The headstones read like a “Who’s Who” of our county. As we walk along, we notice something else. Here and there, people have gathered for what appears to be a picnic. They’ve spread blankets at the gravesites and set down their picnic baskets. Most of them have placed bouquets of flowers at the headstones with lighted candles. I see them praying, saying grace and then lifting glasses in their toasts. Curious, I approach a family gathered around one of the graves. “Good afternoon,” I greet them. Nice day for a picnic, isn’t it? They smile and nod. But, why have a picnic in a cemetery? I ask. El Dia de los Muertos,” the woman said in a soft, accented voice. It is El Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead.  Today, we come to the cemetery to honor members of our families who have passed on and to pray for them. She continued. We want to let them know that even though they have left this life, they are still part of our family. I had never heard of such a custom. The woman went on to explain to me that it is a holiday in Mexico and more important to Mexican culture than Halloween itself. I was quite moved.

   In our society, visits to loved one’s graves can be infrequent and generally very brief. Flowers can be placed at the headstone and a prayer said. But, long spans of time can pass before a return visit is made, if ever. Gone forever and easily forgotten. At that moment, I realized that I had not visited my parents resting place in more than 30 years. Our cemetery walk this day took place on Halloween. The next day would be the first day of November, All Saints Day and El Dia de los Muertos. I could feel the connection here. I could almost hear the grandmother talking to her family as they picnicked six feet above her. I could feel the love and respect these family members were showing their loved ones. Later, as we continued along our walk, I thought of my own parents who were buried far away from where I lived now and made a promise to myself to honor them one day in the tradition of El Dia de los Muertos.

Friday, October 19, 2018 - Roanoke Avenue Cemetery, Riverhead, New York
    Now, it is the weekend of my 60th Anniversary of my graduation from Riverhead High School, and I have brought my son Michael and my daughter Dana with me on this visit to my home town. Michael is accompanied by his wife Laura. Michael accompanied me on a similar pilgrimage in 2003. Neither Dana nor Laura has ever been to Riverhead. Neither Michael nor Dana had ever known their grandparent. “Skip” and Charles Botula had both died by the time my children had been born.

Michael and Laura had flown in from Rome to attend the reunion with me. Dana had flown up from Austin, Texas with me. Now, we were going to keep an appointment that was not on the reunion schedule of events. First a stop at the Riverhead Flower Shop on East Main Street, where I ordered two small bouquets for the visit to the cemetery.  Then we drove along Main Street toward our lunch destination in Aquebogue a few miles to the east of downtown.
   Along the way I pointed out landmarks that were part of my growing-up years. There was the Methodist Church on the left, where the entire family attended, and I had gone to Sunday School. Across the street, still there, was the Rendezvous Restaurant, my favorite watering hole as I became an adult. As we drove eastward, I continued to point out the landmarks that were part of my childhood. Just over the railroad tracks, still standing, was the apartment building that my  parents moved into when they first came to Riverhead in 1940. Then, a short distance down Main Street, just  past the old A & P Supermarket that had been converted into the new Riverhead Town Hall, was the little house where my brother Packy and I had grown up. The little house, now obscured from view by shrubs and trees is still there. A few miles to the east, on the right side of the Main Road, I pointed out Aquebogue Elementary school, where I had attended first grade at five years of age, because the school did not offer a kindergarten program.  Then, we arrived at our lunch destination, the Modern Snack Bar, which has been feeding eastern Long Islanders its famous menu of home cookery since 1950.

After lunch, we drove back into town to pick up to the bouquets for our trip to the cemetery. Then, in the tradition of El día de los muertos, it was time for my son and daughter to visit their grandparents. Michael and Dana placed the flower bouquets at the sides of the gravestones, and Dana scraped away the moss that had begun to form. As I pointed out the headstones of other family friends and neighbors nearby, I explained that the tradition of El día de los muertos, is not a time for grieving. It is, in fact, a family reunion.   In that moment, I truly understood what the Mexican woman had told me in the Santa Ana Cemetery years earlier. This has now become part of my own family’s tradition, even though my trips back to my home town usually don’t coincide with El Dia de los Muertos on the first of November. And, it has more meaning for me than the Halloween celebration.
Dziękuję,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]
© Mike Botula 2018