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!

[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]

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.

[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]
© Mike Botula 2018