Wednesday, August 26, 2009

USS West Virginia; Clifford Olds; Ronald Endicott, Louis "Buddy" Costin; Ted Kennedy

One of the most chilling and horrifying stories I have ever read is a true story.

We all know what happened on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. We know the story of the Arizona. We have seen photos of the Arizona Memorial. We have seen movies dedicated to the loss of the Arizona and the other ships that day. But what you may not have heard is the story of Clifford Olds and his shipmates on board the USS West Virginia. That story is told on the pages of Briefly, Clifford Olds and two of his shipmates were trapped in the lower decks of the battleship West Virginia ("WeeVee") when the attack started. The West Virginia was hit by numerous Japanese torpedoes and sank quickly:
The choicest of targets, she took 9 torpedo hits December 7, 1941. Her port side was literally blasted off. The USS Oklahoma, just ahead of the WV, suffered similar wounds and immediately capsized, but BB48 was of a more advanced water-tight construction. The fast thinking of Lt. Claude Ricketts (THE hero of this ship) prevented the Battleship from turning over. Instead, she settled in the mud on an even keel. This was accomplished by closing all hatch compartments and counter-flooding the starboard side of the ship in a procedure called "set zed". Every sailor knew fate could place them in a doomed area to be drowned like rats. Old Timers would tell 17 and 18 year old "boots" that if that time came "just inhale water quickly and get it over". This, the "grizzled Ones" claimed, was preferable to a slow death in a pitch-black void. For Clifford Olds(20), Ronald Endicott(18), and Louis "Buddy" Costin(21), this would tragically come to pass. Trapped in the forward fresh water pumping station known as area A-111, their fate was sealed when "set zed" was announced after the first Japanese torpedo struck shortly before 8am. Sinking straight down rather than "turning Turtle" enabled hundreds to escape. Those in the lower compartments were drowned, but Olds, Endicott and Costin were alive and well in their air-tight compartment at the bottom of the ship. They did not know what had happened, nor the extent of the carnage above them. Above deck, the Captain was disemboweled by a bomb blast and the Arizona's explosion 50 yards aft rained "Dante's Inferno" onto the WeeVee.

Over 100 died in every way possible. BB48 sank into the Harbor amid burning oil. She burned for 30 hours. When her fires were extinguished late Monday Dec. 8, Guards were posted on the shoreline of Ford Island, next to "Battleship Row". Jittery over rumors of invasion, Sentries at first didn't hear the noise. WeeVee Marine Bugler Dick Fiske recalls: "When it was quiet you could hear it...bang, bang, then stop. Then bang, bang, pause. At first I thought it was a loose piece of rigging slapping against the hull". Then I realized men were making that sound-taking turns making noise". After that night, no one wanted guard duty, but someone had to do it. Bang, bang. It went on for 16 days, slowing in frequency until Christmas Eve. Then silence. The adjacent Oklahoma was upside down and holes were drilled in her bottom to allow a precious few to escape their coffin. The pressure of water inside the hull, pushing up on air pockets, meant as soon as the hull was breached, little time was left before remaining air escaped. Shipmates often drowned in front of rescuers eyes before a hole could be made large enough for escape. Cutting torches ignited trapped gasses and exploded, killing more. Jack-hammers jammed and men drowned while looking at a small hole of light. Knowledgeable Mates quickly learned to "rip open" hull plates fast to insure victims survival. A macabre Naval "C-section" with the same purpose.

Olds, Endicott and Costin were sitting on the harbor floor completely surrounded by water, 40 feet down. Cutting through the side of the hull for rescue was out of the question. The smallest of holes in a pressurized compartment would cause a "blow-out", something Submariners knew well. Besides, considering the destruction and carnage above, the problems of three men didn't amount to a "hill of beans" to busy Navy Brass. All Sailors know they are expendable after "set zed". Concerned Shipmates pin-pointed their banging as coming from the bow section, but could do nothing. Clifford Olds' friend Jack Miller had a sinking feeling Olds was trapped. He knew the pump station well, as Cliff would often invite him there for "bull sessions". It was so air-tight, they often closed the hatch and dared people to hear them cursing wildly inside.

Late spring 1942 found Navy salvage teams finally getting to work on the WV. An Inventive series of tremic cement patches were fitted to her port side, and enough water pumped out to partially float the once grand ship. BB48 was nudged across the Harbor into drydock and the grim task of finding bodies began. For Commander Paul Dice, compartment A-111 was expected to be like the rest: Put on gas masks, place some goo into a bodybag and let the Medical boys worry about identification. They had seen it all, but this compartment was different. Dice first noticed the interior was dry and flashlight batteries and empty ration cans littered the floor. A manhole cover to a fresh water supply was opened. Then he saw the calendar. It was 12"x14" and marked with big red Xs that ended December 23. Hardened salvage workers wept uncontrollably as they realized the fate of these men. Word quickly spread among salvage crews: Three men had lived for 16 days to suffer the most agonizing deaths among the 2800 victims at Pearl Harbor.
emphasis added

The point is, these three men lived in an airtime room for 16 days underwater, while those above could not get to them. It would take months, as recounted above, for the salvage and rescue workers to raise the ship and reach their level. Read the whole thing.

USS West Virginia with crew members trapped below in the dark

Why do I write of this now? Why not wait until the next anniversary of Pearl Harbor? Because I cannot sit still while network hagiographers wax eloquent over Ted Kennedy and Republican apologists minimize the issues as mere "philosophical differences." Ted Kennedy's most famous crime, Chappaquiddick, was not a mere "philosophical difference." After reading of the "slow death in a pitch-black void" sufferred by the three young sailors barely younger than Mary Jo Kopechne, one cannot help but wonder about the person who would willingly subject someone to this fate.

Yes, it was an accident that the car went off the bridge. But it was no accident that Kennedy refused to demand help from every home in the vicinity while there was a chance to save the woman who most likely lived in an air pocket for hours. It was no accident. It was pure political calculation. Ted Kennedy calculated his political future and his ability to avoid blame while Mary Jo Kopechne slowly suffocated in a dark cramped space.

After Pearl Harbor, we did not rest until every Japanese ship that took part in the attack was sunk and the empire of Japan lay in ruins. Millions would die before we made peace. But for Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, life continued on as before. He retained his power and his freedom. He is now an icon of the leftist establishment in this country.

As Kennedy's worst actions are dismissed as mere "disagreements," we must remember what is at stake. Kennedy advocates socialist/totalitarian policies. His policies infringe on our very core freedoms. We would not mourn the passing of a third world dictator. We should not do so merely because the totalitarian happens to have been born in the United States and is supported by a well funded totalitarian movement.

Ted Kennedy's fate is between Kennedy and God. I wish him the best in that regard. But we are under no obligation to pretend that the past did not happen. We must not create an idol where evil existed. History must not change because the establishment wills it. The king cannot compel a lie.

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