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Carl Davidson 11/10/18 @ 4:55pm: “MY DAD WAS PROUD OF HIS SERVICE, fighting the Japanese fascists in the South Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. He was on the USS Mindanao, a repair ship that accompanied the fleet into every battle. He was assigned it because, as a truck mechanic, he knew how to work on diesel engines. He was wounded once, but only in sick bay a short time.”
[RWC] Before I begin, this review is NOT fact-checking of KD’s father, herein referred to as Mr. Davidson. The review is about what KD wrote for Veterans Day 2018.
While the USS Mindanao II (ARG-3) was a repair ship that served in the Pacific Theater of WWII, it was not possible for any ship – repair or otherwise - to accompany the fleet into every battle, if for no other reason than multiple battles were engaged concurrently throughout the war. In fairness, while campaigns (strategic in nature) usually have multiple battles, sometimes “battle” and “campaign” are used interchangeably. In any case, Mindanao didn’t even exist at the time of the Guadalcanal Campaign (Aug. 1942 – Feb. 1943). It’s possible Mr. Davidson served on another ship before Mindanao, but Mindanao was the only ship KD mentioned.
The U.S. defeated Japanese forces on Guadalcanal in November 1942, though Japanese forces didn’t complete their evacuation until February 1943. Construction of Mindanao, however, didn’t begin until about two months after Japanese forces completed their evacuation of Guadalcanal and wasn’t commissioned until November 6, 1943. Mindanao reported for duty with Service Squadron South Pacific during January 1944. Service squadrons were forward service and re-supply bases for combat forces so they didn’t need to spend a lot of time and fuel/supplies traveling a long distance to reload ammunition, fuel, all kinds of supplies, and get repairs at a real naval base. As far as I can tell, a forward base was not built until it would be out of range of Japanese forces. For example, Mindanao was stationed at Ulithi Atoll (about 1,374 statute miles from Okinawa) for a while “to prepare ships for the Okinawa campaign.”
According to the U.S. Navy, “Now with TG 30.9, she [Mindanao] was anchored in Seeadler Harbor on the morning of 10 November, when at about 0850 ammunition ship Mount Hood [AE-11] blew up. Mindanao, 350 yards away, suffered extensive damage particularly to her superstructure, and aft. Of her crew, 180 were killed or wounded.” The explosion completely obliterated Mount Hood and its crew onboard. The only Mount Hood crew members who survived were 1 who left for shore about 25 minutes earlier.
There were two main issues with the explosion. The obvious issue was the explosion itself, but the Navy’s investigation of the explosion was unable to determine the cause, not surprising given absolutely nothing remained of the crew and their ship. I’ve seen a couple of claims a Japanese two-man submarine torpedoed the Mount Hood, but without evidence.
The second issue was Mount Hood’s anchorage. It’s standard procedure for ammunition ships to be moored a “safe” distance from the other ships. In this case, however, Mount Hood’s anchorage was in the main harbor. According to Commander Chester Gile, USNR, Ret., “For some unknown reason, Mt. Hood had been anchored in the midst of the ships of the Seventh Fleet Service Force. Casualties to other vessels would have been minimized if the ammunition ship had been spotted at an isolated location a few miles down harbor, off the ammunition supply depot at Lugos, the customary anchorage for ships of this type. Somebody was at fault for designating an anchorage for Mount Hood so near to the other ships.” Though Commander Gile wrote, “For some unknown reason …,” you’ll find below the reasons were known.
Something else that interested me is there’s an account claiming it was no secret Mount Hood was “illegally parked” and sailors “often felt very uneasy because it was there week after week.” If the “illegal parking” was known, why was Mount Hood allowed to stay anchored in the main harbor for “week after week?” This is likely the “stupid mistake by someone higher up” Mr. Davidson allegedly mentioned to KD.
According to an official Navy investigation, “The anchorage to which the U.S.S. Mount Hood was assigned, when she entered the harbor, berth 270, a 500 yard berth, was in the least congested part of the harbor and in the vicinity of the four designated explosive anchorages.” Within 24 hours of arrival, however, officers (harbor master, Mount Hood’s commanding officer, and so on) responsible for Mount Hood’s anchorage began to move the ship to various berths, eventually placing Mount Hood in berth 380, adjacent to Mindanao’s berth 381. All of the details of what and why are in the investigation’s report.
Mindanao returned to service in December 1944. “After a brief voyage to the Solomons in February and March 1945, Mindanao arrived at Ulithi 27 March to prepare ships for the Okinawa campaign. There she served until 9 October, when she sailed for periods of duty at Okinawa and Shanghai.” Japan surrendered about one month earlier on September 2, 1945.
“Our ancestors fought in every war going back to Plymouth colony. (Wiping out the Peuqot [sic] native peoples is not one to be proud of). Dad was a real patriot, with lots of flags around the house, especially on the 4th and veterans [sic] day.”
[RWC] KD forgot to mention the Pequot were already at war with other American Indian tribes before the European colonists got involved. The colonists became allies of the tribes already fighting the Pequot. Other than technology, why do so many people think the American Indians of the time were different than the European colonists?
“He had mixed feelings about my draft resistance. ‘We all had to go, you too. But maybe you won’t get called up’ he told me. But he also knew there was something different about this one. His service had a deep impact of [sic] him. When I was 12, like every other kid, I wanted a .22 rifle. ‘I’ve seen all the guns I ever want to see,’ he insisted, ‘and I don’t want one in the house.’ So I got a serious bow instead, and my uncles taught me how to shoot.”
[RWC] According to KD, “For my part, I told my draft board I had no intention of going to jail or Canada, but if it came done [sic] to it, I’d organize inside the Army for the troops to rise up against the war. As a veteran of Mississippi marches and SDS antiwat [sic] organizing, they decided they didn’t want me.” KD’s draft board let him off the hook because he threatened to commit treason?
“We took him to dinner once when he was past 90. WW2 and his service came up, and he starting talking like he never had earlier. He described how a buddy and a petty officer he liked were blown to bits as the result of a stupid mistake by someone higher up. The tears came, and he was sobbing like it was something that happened last week, rather than 70 years ago. There it was, the traumatic stress, finally letting loose. ‘It’s OK, Dad, crying about these things is good for you.’ I’m glad he didn’t take those tears to the grave with him.”
[RWC] While researching this review, I found video (published on May 19, 2015) of a vet whom I thought was a shipmate of Mr. Davidson. The vet described his experience when Mount Hood exploded. As Mr. Davidson, the video’s sailor worked in Mindanao’s diesel shop. Unfortunately, the video doesn’t name the sailor or say when the video was recorded. There’s a guy in the video background wearing a shirt with the Steelers logo, so I thought the vet may be a local. A couple of days later, while researching another piece, I ran across a photo of Mr. Davidson. Though the lighting in the video wasn’t great, I thought the vet in the video looked a lot like the guy in Mr. Davidson’s photo. Could the video’s vet really be Mr. Davidson? I became curious of a blur on the far-left during the first several seconds of the video. I slowed playback of the video and the “blur” turned out to be KD. That told me the video vet was indeed Mr. Davidson. Mr. Davidson died on May 9, 2015, and the video was published 10 days later. I don’t know the video’s production date, but it had to be after September 11, 2012, Mr. Davidson’s 90th birthday.
KD’s version of the story differs a little from the video. For example, Mr. Davidson said, “bodies were laying everywhere … arms blown off … legs,” but he didn’t mention his “buddy and a petty officer he liked were blown to bits.” Mr. Davidson also didn’t mention the explosion was “the result of a stupid mistake by someone higher up.” In fairness, the published video covers only six minutes, 37 seconds of an obviously longer discussion.
KD said his dad “was wounded once, but only in sick bay a short time,” while Mr. Davidson said he “was in that hospital ship for about two weeks.” Given the situation, “two weeks” sounds like more than “a short time,” but perhaps that’s nitpicking.
“As VVAW puts it, ‘honor the warriors, not the wars,’ meaning at least every one since WW2, the ones we knew directly.”
[RWC] As you can tell from this review, there’s plenty of easily-found info on the Internet about Mindanao, including the Mount Hood explosion. I’m surprised KD didn’t appear to know about it.
In Peace, Friendship, Community, Cooperation, and Solidarity. <g>
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