Thursday March 28, 2019
Cloudy 60°F/16°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Sunny 51°F/11°C in Cokeburg, Pennsylvania
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|
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.
[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