Soleggiatio e caldo 88°F/31°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Cloudy 77°F/ 25°C Cedar Park, Texas
Fatherhood is great because you can ruin someone from scratch! Jon Stewart
Father’s Day, 1944 also fell on Sunday June 18th. And, while I had to look up the date, I can assure one and all that a new necktie or a pair of argyle socks or new golf clubs was the farthest thing
|Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. 1945|
While he was away, it fell to my mother to be both mom and dad to her only child. (My brother Packy would not join us until late the following year). While dad was in the navy, Mary Botula moved back to Jamestown, New York to be near her parents and siblings who lived in western New York State. It was a life faced by millions of other American families. Dad was away in the service. Not until he came home and he was able to show us the photographs from his ship’s clandestine dark room did we get to see where he had been and really share his experiences.
|Dad, Mom and Me - June 17, 1944|
LST 920 Commissioning
Now, I could bore you to tears with stories about my dad’s influence on my life. He guided my brother and I as we grew up and influenced us as we reached adulthood. He led the way with compassion and honesty and a firm hand. And, while I have many warm memories of both my parents, it wasn’t to be for many years after his death that I really began to get to know him, and concluded that he and I could have become best friends. Retracing his steps through the two years that he was absent from my life, sparked a journey of my own.
Every journalist takes on the task of getting to know the person whose story they are telling. It’s a key part of the job. When my father, died in 1965, I became heir to boxes of his personal papers books, photographs and other documents. I kept them in storage for many years until my own retirement. My brother and I had grown up listening to our father’s stories about his Navy service in World War 2. One evening as I visited an internet site devoted to World War 2 history, I left a note in the site’s comments section. My father Lieutenant (jg) Charles Botula Jr., served as Executive Officer aboard LST 920. I would like to contact any former officers or crew members who served with him. It was done impulsively, without any expectation of a reply. To my surprise, 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. That exchange of messages started me on a journey that lasted well over a decade and came into fruition when my book LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books, last August.
|LST 920: Charlie Botula's |
Long, Slow Target! 1944
Don Reed was the LST 920’s Communications Officer, serving from its commissioning on June 17, 1944 at Hingham, Massachusetts until July 8, 1946 when the ship was decommissioned in San Francisco Bay. Mr. Reed was the LST 920’s last commanding officer. He became my guide and mentor as I retraced my father’s footsteps through that part of our lives. Except for distant, fleeting memories, my father was just a black and white image looking out at me from a picture frame on the mantel during that time of my life. But, to the men who served with him aboard ship, he was a daily presence. Charlie and I got to be pretty good friends, former Ensign Jerry Gerard told me. Gerard was the ship’s engineering officer and an aspiring artist before the war. Among my dad’s papers was a pencil sketch that Gerard had done of him, dated 1944. We used to talk
a lot about
our families while we were at sea, he told me. I still had career aspirations to become an artist after the war, and I
asked if I could practice on him. He agreed and when I was done with the
sketch, I gave it to him as a souvenir. I’m flattered that he kept it all those
years. Jerry Gerard is gone now, but, I still have the sketch he did of my
dad, and I plan on passing it along to my own son.
|Gerard's Sketch of Dad|
Because he was on board the entire time that dad served, Reed was the officer who knew him best. In a letter to me in 2003 Reed said, His age must have been around thirty when we formed up our crew, and our Captain was around the same age, which made them the two real ‘old men of the crew, and the only married officers. As Executive Officer, he was not required to stand watches, but he volunteered into it. So, I spent a lot of watches with him, including night watches in fierce Atlantic weather. I remember your dad as being calm and stable, even-tempered, a kind man, Ensign Reed said. Part of his job was to support the Commanding Officer and see that the crew carried out the captain’s orders. With your dad’s temperament, he was a good buffer between the captain and the crew. As Executive Officer, he was Captain Schultz’ right hand man and enforcer of the Captain’s leadership, Reed said. So, the junior officers started to good-naturedly call him ‘the Sheriff’ and he good naturedly did not object. I’m sure that Reed had added the good -naturedly to his description, only because he was telling the story to the son who had grown into adulthood under the tutelage of The Sheriff! As the son of a man who could be a very strict father, Reed’s comments made me smile.
One of dad’s war stories was his account of a Nazi U-boat attack on his convoy and the sinking of
|Michael and Mary Botula|
I came down with Yellow Jaundice in the middle of the Pacific, ex-Seaman Larry Biggio told me in a telephone conversation. I was sick as hell. Could’a died for that matter! But, the Jaundice was extremely contagious and none of the other guys would come near me. Your old man was the only person I saw between the time I got sick enough to be confined to quarters, until I was evacuated to the hospital on shore. The exec checked on me several times a day and made sure I had what I needed. Seaman Biggio was evacuated from the ship and spent several months in the hospital before being sent back to the states. I never saw your dad again after I left the ship, Biggio said, but, I think about what he did to help me to this day. I owe him a lot. I owe him my life!
One of the great tragedies of the war, is the fact that so many returning veterans, declined to share their experiences with their families. Those that survived the long road through Hell, simply put their experiences behind them and tried to resume their normal lives. My brother and I are fortunate in the fact that our father freely shared his wartime experiences with us, and they were blended in with the other life experiences that our mother and father drew upon as they raised us. As a journalist, I understood that my father had played a part in one of the greatest historical events of the 20th Century. But, even as those experiences unfolded, he had no way of knowing the true impact of his small part in that drama. He was a great story teller, and, his memory inspired me to put my skills to work to tell his story. Charlie Botula had no way of knowing what happened to the survivors of that U-boat attack, or what happened to the survivors of the LST 921 that were rescued from the chilly waters of the Dover Channel by his crew. It was up to me to retrace his steps and reach out to the people and events along his path, and eventually tell his story.
One of the people he met along the way was former Ensign Don Joost, the Engineering Officer of the ill-fated sister ship, LST 921. I spent an afternoon with Don and his wife at their home in Walnut Creek, California, talking about the U-boat attack on his ship and the rescue of his shipmates by the crew of their sister-ship, LST 920. The captain of your dad’s ship, Harry Schultz, disobeyed a standing order to come back and get us, Joost recounted. That took a lot of guts on his part, and he was court-martialed for it! In fact, the whole crew showed a lot of courage, because after the torpedo attack, that U-boat stayed in the area looking for another kill. Badly injured in the attack, Ensign Joost was evacuated to a hospital in England where he recovered from his injuries, and was decorated for bravery for rescuing many of his shipmates from the sinking LST 921. Eventually, he was assigned to another ship. After the war, Joost transferred to a submarine and saw service during the Korean War. I asked him if he knew my father.
|LST 921 Survivor|
Ensign Don Joost 1944
Oh yes, he replied. We both served on sister-ships. The ships themselves were built in the same shipyard at Hingham, Massachusetts, and we were both commissioned in the same week. The crews trained together at Camp Bradford, Virginia. There was a very tight bond between the crews of the two ships. Yes, I knew your dad, Mike. There was a slight pause in the conversation, and then Joost said, And you certainly favor your dad! It was a very proud moment.
After its duties in Europe, the LST 920 sailed back across the Atlantic and, after refitting, went on to the Pacific. My father came home in December 1945 and together my parents lived a full life until cancer took her from us in 1961. After that he was a ship without a rudder and he followed his “Skipper,” as he affectionately called his wife Mary, in 1965.
Now, half a century after his death, I still rely on his example to set to set my own course through life. One of my favorite teachers told me time and time again, By example, you teach! I certainly had a great role model. Happy Father’s Day, Charlie Botula!
Grazie mille, papà!
© Mike Botula 2017
[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a subsidiary of www.mikebotula.com. Mike is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus!] Mike’s book is available from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble Books.