Monday, May 30, 2016

Lt. Charlie Botula’s Memorial Day Story!

Brushy Creek Journal
Memorial Day USA
We have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again… President Barack Obama at Hiroshima
Lt. Charles Botula, Jr.
When I was a little boy, Memorial Day was still called Decoration Day and it fell on May 30th. My mom told me it was a memorial event that started at the end of the Civil War, because that’s when Americans would pay tribute to the fallen who wore both blue and grey by decorating their graves with flowers. The observance actually began with former slaves celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation by decorating the wartime graves of African-Americans who fought for their freedom from slavery. Decoration Day quickly became a memorial day honoring Americans who fell in all of our country’s wars. After World War 1, we honored the fallen of The Great War on each November 11th.  For many years, November was Armistice Day, and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year there was a moment of silence to commemorate the end of The War to End All Wars. In 1968 Congress revamped our national holidays, combining these hallowed days into a pair of three-day weekends. Decoration Day is now Memorial Day and Armistice Day is now Veterans Day. Today we will again  honor those who fought and died for their country. But, as the years pass, the real meaning of both days is sometimes lost in the holiday atmosphere that accompanies any long weekend.

  When my father returned from his US Navy service in World War 2, he told my brother and I a story that I retell to my own son and daughter, and now my grandchildren as every new Memorial Day approaches.
  My dad served as Executive Officer aboard the LST 920 during World War 2. His ship survived a deadly U boat attack on his convoy that sank a British escort ship and heavily damaged LST 921, the sister ship to the LST 920. The loss of life was heavy. The British ship, LCI(L)99 was literally blown out of the water.  LST 921 was torn in two, with the aft section sinking with half the crew. I’ve shared this story before. In fact, I’m writing a book about it.  My dad, Lt. (jg) Charles Botula, Jr. died in 1965 without ever knowing the full story about the afternoon of August 14th 1944 off the west coast of England. It’s taken me years to research it. Neither my Dad nor his Captain – Harry N. Schultz ever
LST Captain Harry N Schultz
knew which enemy submarine attacked them or what happened to that U boat after the LST 921 and HMS LCI(L)99 were torpedoed. Most of the survivors of that terrible afternoon have also faded from our midst, but, their story is well worth the retelling. For in the retelling, we can pay them a long overdue honor.

  Monday, 14 August 1944 -16:54 hrs. - USS LST 920, commanded by Lieutenant Harry N. Schultz and USS LST 921, under the command of Lieutenant John Werner Enge were underway in convoy EBC 72 from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England. They were suddenly attacked by the German submarine U667, under the command of Kapitӓnleutnant Karl-Heinze Lange. LST 921 was hit by the first torpedo and broke in two with the aft section sinking minutes later. Some survivors scampered to safety on the bow section. Others went overboard into the chilly water. When the aft section sank, it took half of the ship’s crew to the bottom.  General Quarters was sounded on the LST 920 and Captain Schultz came to the bridge.
U 667
Seeing survivors in the water, Schultz ordered his radioman, Seaman Fred Benck to send a request for permission to turn his ship around to pick up survivors. Permission was denied and the 920 was ordered to proceed to Falmouth. Years later, Benck told me what happened next. “In about two minutes he came in the radio room and said, Benck send that message again! This time he waited for the answer which was the same, DO NOT BREAK CONVOY! H. N. Schultz then used these words: TO HELL WITH HIM! And we pulled out of convoy to turn back and pick up survivors! A message came from the Commander of the convoy to get back in formation. This message was never answered.”

 As my father watched from the bridge of the LST 920, he spotted a torpedo coming straight at him. Just then, a British escort vessel, LCI(L)99 came alongside, took the full brunt of the torpedo and was blown out of the water. The 920 came about and Schultz ordered two small boats into the water with Ensign John Waters in one and Ensign Harold Willcox in the other, along with nine other sailors to rescue survivors. Willcox tied a line around his waist and jumped into the water numerous times to help pull survivors aboard. In
his After Action Report, Captain Schultz singled out Waters and Willcox and the nine seamen for outstanding performance during the action. In all, 48 survivors were rescued and brought aboard the LST 920.  Seaman Joe Wallace tells this part of the story. “I remember one of the 921 crew members coming up to the bridge all wet and oily. I gave him my locker keys and location, and he showered and put on some clean dry clothes. By this time it was dark. We gathered the survivors and were on our way to Falmouth. There, I had the task of counting the departing survivors - 42 walking and 6 stretcher cases.”

  A number of other survivors from the 921 as well as the LCI (99) were rescued by a British ship that joined in the rescue operation. All told, about 65 survivors were picked up, but fully half of the LST 921’s complement of 107 officers and crew had been lost. Years would pass before a dusty and forgotten archive* would reveal the names of the sailors – Americans and British who lost their lives on that August afternoon more than seventy years ago. And so, on this Memorial Day, I would like us to remember:
               Baker, Thomas A., USNR                              Seaman First Class           
               Banit, Roman J., USNR                                  Seaman Second Class      
               Bennett, Frederick W., USNR                       Seaman First Class            
               Bent, Eugene E., USNR                                  Seaman First Class           
               Clements, Charles M., USNR                        Seaman First Class            
               Dove, Raleigh J., USNR                                 Seaman Second Class     
               Enge, John Werner, USNR                            Lieutenant  (Captain, survived)
               Feeney, Lawrence E., USNR                         Fireman Second Class      
               Fitton, Edward Joseph, USNR                      Seaman Second Class     
               Freely, James Joseph, USNR                        Boatswain's Mate 1st Class  
               Furino, Louis A., USNR                                  Coxswain             
               Guthrie, Edward J., USNR                             Ensign   
               Guziak, Walter V., USNR                               Seaman Second Class      
               Hoak, William K., USNR                                Gunner's Mate Third Class 
               Jerzewski, Chester R., USNR                        Seaman Second Class      
               Jones, Oscar R., USNR                                   Coxswain             
               Kozlik, John H., USNR                                    Seaman First Class           
               Lowe, Samuel M., USNR                               Seaman Second Class      
               Micheline, Carmine A., USNR                      Seaman Second Class      
               Mindlin, Daniel, USNR                                   Ensign   
               Monaco, Robert Chester, USNR                 Radioman Second Class 
               Moore, Charles H., USNR                             Seaman Second Class      
               Mulholland, William P., USNR                     Seaman Second Class      
               Newberry, Clyde, USNR                                Seaman Second Class      
               Pizon, John J., USNR                                      Seaman First Class          
               Potasky, Joseph E., USNR                             Seaman First Class           
               Progy, Henry, USNR                                       Motor Mach Mate 3rd Class 
               Richard, Donald James, USNR                     Gunner's Mate 3rd Class  
              Siring, Ronald John, USNR                            Ship's Cook Third Class    
               Smith, Kenneth J., USN                                  Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class 
               Smith, Lee I., USNR                                        Seaman Second Class     
               Smith, Ray R., USNR                                      Seaman First Class          
               Sprague, Herbert K., USNR                           Seaman Second Class     
               Suazoe, Ray M., USNR                                  Seaman Second Class      
               Totulis, Albert G., USN                                  Gunner's Mate 3rd Class  
               Trachsel, Ernest W., USNR                           Seaman Second Class     
               Van Why, Henry, USNR                                 Seaman Second Class      
               Verity, Edward C., USNR                               Seaman Second Class     
               Vitense, Glenn, USNR                                    Seaman First Class           
               Widmer, Richard C., USNR                           Seaman Second Class     
               Yavornitzky, Andrew J., USNR                     Shipfitter Second Class   
 There is an important postscript to this story. The attacking submarine, U 667, had sunk four ships including the LST 921 and LCI (99) on what turned out to be its most successful cruise. But as it headed back to its base and a hero’s welcome, its jubilant crewmen could not know that their luck was about to change. In all of the research I did for this story, the US Navy and German  Kriegsmarine archives revealed only that U 667 struck a mine on or about August 25th on the way back to its home base. But, as I researched further, I found the answer on a specialty internet site:, which is devoted to the archives of the Kriegsmarine and its unterseebooten. According to the archives, the RAF had carried out a series of aerial mine-laying missions off the coast of France in an area code-named Cinnamon right after the U 667 left port on its final cruise. The RAF dropped mines into the U 667’s inbound route back to base. An RAF report that I read showed that the coordinates of that  August 1944 mine-laying sweep matches the location where the U 667 was finally found and examined by diving crews. The loss of the U 667 was recorded by the Kriegsmarine after it missed a scheduled radio check-in on August 25th. When U 667 failed to check in, Admiral Karl Dönitz’ high command assumed that the sub had been lost. Ironically, neither my father nor his Captain, Harry Schultz, nor any of the survivors from LST 921 ever knew what happened to the submarine that attacked them. The exploding mine sent U 667 to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, where it remains with its entire crew of 45. The wreckage is now war grave. Apart from the sub’s captain, Karl-Heinze Lange, the identities of the other sailors in his crew are unknown, or they would be listed here as well. It’s fitting that we remember all who perished on this Memorial Day.
 Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

-Navy Hymn 

*LST 921 casualty list via and US Navy Archives
( Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula's Long, Slow Target! (AMAZON BOOKS) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of , and is linked to Facebook, and  Twitter and Google Plus!)
© By Mike Botula 2016

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My Family History Story

“LOST MUSKET DIARY” Tuesday October 21, 2014
Sunny 77F/25C/ in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA      
              This week, I found another treasure among the family photos and papers that make up my family archives. It was a yellowed, eight page essay written by my father for his sociology class at the University of Pittsburgh, probably around 1929 or ‘30. This typewritten document opened a window on his world for me. Now, as I read this story, I realized that it was familiar to me. He had talked about his family in the “Olden Days,” in family conversations over Sunday dinners after church at our house. But, with his hand typed memoir in my possession, I can share my dad’s first-hand account as Charles Botula told it him self so long ago.
My grandparents had come to the United States in 1903 from what is now the Czech Republic. Back then, it was part of the Austrian Empire, and they were part of a massive migration from Eastern Europe. People fleeing poverty, persecution and war who were looking for a better life in America. The family started its upward climb  to the middle class from the very lowest rung on the ladder. Actually, it wasn’t even the ground floor. It was more like subterranean. My grandfather Botula started his new life in America as a coal miner.
Karel Botula “got off the boat” in Philadelphia in 1903  and started work in Cokeburg, Pennsylvania,  a small coal mining town near Pittsburgh. My grandmother, Johana, arrived with her three children, Karola, Maximilian, and Frantiska at Ellis Island a short time later and joined him in Cokeburg.
My grandfather Botula worked for the James W. Ellsworth Coal Company.    Karel Botula was one of the thousands who answered the call. He was a young man, married with three young children. In the Europe of that era, his family faced a bleak future. America, in his mind, offered the future he wanted for his family. So, in 1903 he booked passage to the United States, arriving in Philadelphia and traveling on to a small mining town in western Pennsylvania. His wife, Johana and the couple’s three children followed him a few months later, arriving at Ellis Island in New York harbor.
Dad picks up the story from there. “It took a lot of researching on my part to get a complete picture of the turn of the century migration that brought my family to America in the first place and I still have a lot to learn about my family’s early life in Europe, but this much I have learned.”
Cokeburg, Pennsylvania was a “company town,” built and maintained by the Ellsworth Coal Mining
Company. The company owned the land and built the homes the miners and their families lived in; operated the company store where they bought their groceries and other necessities; built the church where they worshipped; built the school and hired its teachers, and it provided medical care to the miners and their families. The town’s entire purpose was to mine the bituminous coal deep underground and from this raw material bake it in massive ovens to turn it into coke, a hot burning, gray, ash-like product used in the manufacture of steel. The coke ovens dotted the countryside around the mineshafts, and, as the coal was distilled into coke, the ovens gave off thick clouds of black sulfurous smoke. Karel Botula’s job was not only dangerous from the necessity of digging for the coal deep underground, but the work was carried out in environmentally dangerous conditions. I can remember as a small boy seeing the smoke from the ovens and the downwind hillsides near them that were devoid of all living trees and brush. In the center of the village was a huge slag heap, where the mine tailings, and waste from the coke ovens were piled high. Today, the slag heap has been reclaimed as a park, but then it was a raw wasteland where the immigrant children would play. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Energizing My Muse!

Brushy Creek Journal

Monday May 23, 2016

Scattered Thundershowers 83°F/28°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613

Howdy Y’all!

   When I first came up with the idea of doing a blog, I asked myself a question – will anyone care about what you write?  But, after thinking it over, I decided to give it a try, and plunged ahead. The blog actually began with my Facebook postings back in 2013 during my extended trip to Italy. Out of those scribblings came my Rome Diary. That led to a renewed interest in my internet site, and my regular blogging via Blogspot.   But, in the past few months, since my move to Texas, the Cone of Silence seems to have descended. Checking my files, I see that I haven’t posted anything in about two months. So, this installment marks my comeback blog.

   Some of the silence is due to the extended settling in process that’s involved in a major move like the one I made from California. It was a life-changer for me, and I’m still adjusting.  But, other projects have also diverted my attention. I’ve been researching a book about my father’s experiences in the Navy during World War 2, which centers around a U boat attack on his convoy in 1944. I returned to my book writing, and did an article based on it, submitting it to a special interest magazine. It is scheduled for the November issue. I’ve also been working on,  posting new articles and photos on a variety of subjects.

  Since I followed my daughter from California to Texas, I am once again back in the warm embrace of my family. Dana and Jason moved here a year ago with their four kids, Jacob, Jessica, Jaydan and Jordan. We will be joined shortly by Dana’s oldest son, Joshua and his fianceé. Last month, we had a big old-fashioned family reunion with my son, Michael and his wife Laura and her parents, Sergio and Annamaria along with my brother Packy and his wife Sue. They got to see the longhorn cattle parade through the streets of Fort Worth and bought souvenirs at the Alamo. And, of course, we dined on Texas barbecue! We were also able to celebrate a lot of birthdays. I passed the 75 year mark in January. Mike and Dana both have birthdays in May, as do the twins – Jaydan and Jordyn. Jake and Jesse also have birthdays in the Spring, and Joshua’s is at the end of March.

 While, I’m on the subject of family… I am also reconnecting with the original Botula family across the Atlantic in what is now the Czech Republic. One of my cousins, Jeff Botula, who was working in Germany a couple of years ago, contacted his namesake family in Ostrava, and last  year ago traveled there to meet and get to know some of his distant relatives. His hostess was Alice Bolfova who introduced him to other members of the original Botulas. I am planning to follow Jeff’s footsteps on my next trip to Italy. Prague is a two hour flight from Rome, so I have no excuse not to.

  In fact, Alice and are are not only related, but we are Facebook friends now, too. This past weekend we connected via Skype, and had a delightful chat. Alice speaks English, but I speak only a few words of Czech, er Cesky. She did explain that the translation feature in my software makes any attempt to communicate that way next to impossible. I’ve already downloaded a Czech phrase book for travelers onto my Kindle, and I’m waiting for Amazon to deliver my Euro-Talk language lessons on CD. I will soon add Cesky to the languages I can use to order dinner and find the bathroom when I’m traveling overseas: French, Spanish, German, Italian, and soon, Czech! If you haven’t noticed by now, I don’t consider myself a typical American tourist. And I love it, when another American urges me to  Talk ‘Merican! I love responding that I have no clue what they are talking about – in another language, of course!

  My grandparents emigrated from the Old Country back in 1903. They raised nine children to adulthood. As far as the Old Country Botulas ever knew, Karel and Johana sailed west never to be heard from again. And as far as we in the American branch were concerned, our grandparents had come from a mysterious kingdom far across the sea. Time passed and two world wars intervened and the two Botula families begat and begat. Now, there are efforts to reconnect being carried out by both branches. I plan to blog about this Family Reunion by Internet from time to time. I’ll be happy to share with you.

   Moving to Texas has put more than California in my life’s rear-view mirror. It has also put a lot of memories there as well, along with places and friends, a couple of careers and a half century of connections. I’m grateful to have my family close by, and I am making an effort to meet my new neighbors and make new friends here in the Lone Star State.  Social media is the way I’m doing it. Email, Facebook, Twitter, the blog and allow me to keep in touch. And when I run out of patience with texting (which doesn’t take long) I just grab my IPhone and drop a dime. One of my close friends now lives in New Zealand, and another lives in China. Mike and Laura live in Rome. Other friends and former colleagues are literally scattered around the world. Staying in touch has come a long way from the World War 2 V-mail that my parents used to stay in touch. Or even the rare overseas phone calls that enabled me to hear my brother’s voice when he was flying in Vietnam. I am limited in my outreach only by those friends over the age of ten who either refuse to learn how to use the technology or whine that they just can’t do it.  So, here I am in central Texas, two time zones away from Hollywood and 1,400 miles closer to Rome, where my son’s band No Funny Stuff plays.(Plug!) The central U.S. location also puts me closer to my brother, so I can also think about jetting up for a weekend near St. Louis. And, if my high school classmates are up for it, I can more easily attend my reunion, which is tentatively on the calendar for the Fall of 2018.



( MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of , and is linkedto Facebook, and  Twitter and Google Plus!)

© By Mike Botula 2016


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