Monday, December 04, 2006

A tribute to one of the Greatest Americans

My grandfather is a Pearl Harbor Survivor, as you will read in this account. In February we will be staying on the USS Lexington, CV-16. My Grandfather was stationed on the USS Lexington, CV-2 for a while before it was sunk. The USS Lexington CV-16 was in production when the CV-2 was sunk, and was named after it. When visiting the CV-16 you can see many many pictures of the CV-2. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. -Semalee

(As told by Art Buell)
I was born on November 23, 1916, in Beaumont, California, a small town of about 1500 people, 80 miles east of Los Angeles. Beaumont was in a farming area, the principal products being grain, cherries and peaches. The Buell family consisted of a father, from Wisconsin, a mother, who was an immi­grant from Germany, and went through the Ellis Island ordeal during the European immigration influx, a brother(Charlie) and a sister (Marion) both older than me.
My dad had a horse with which he did agricultural work for other farmers. He loved that horse, even though once in a while she would get stubborn. I watched him one day when the horse was acting up, went into the house and, clinging to my mother's leg, I said, "Mom, you're a son-of-a-bitch". I leave it to your imagination on how that played out.
I attended elementary, junior high and high school in Beaumont and grad­uated with about 25 others in the Class of "34, at the height of a major economic depression. Work was impossible to obtain and college financially out of the question, 30 I joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) right after high school and was able to send a few dollars home. This was not intended to be permanent, so I applied for military service and was accepted by the Navy.
Speaking about the Depression-the period from 1930 to 1938 was a time of dust and gloom. You didn't have any money but neither did your neighbor. Times were tough, but we all survived somehow. The larger Navy ships usually invited the navy families to Sunday dinner, and that helped many of the navy families to survive.
One day, during the Depression, when the longshoremen were organizing to go on strike, the Moore family was taking a Sunday drive around the harbor and was stopped by a longshoreman mob who pulled them out of the car and started to beat them up, thinking that they were scabs. Bettie's mother broke free and, in language that longshoremen could understand, ordered them to stop. I liked the Moore family-they were my kind of people.
The Navy pay was only $21 a month, but to a farm boy with no prospects it looked pretty good. I went to boot camp in San Diego as my first duty. The Navy conducted a series of aptitude tests for all new recruits and operated schools to teach the corresponding disciplines. I did well in mathematics and mechanics, and so was sent to Norfolk, Virginia, for 6 months training in machine shop work, at the conclusion of which I was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS LEXINGTON (CV2). The home port of the LEXINGTON was Long Beach, California.
About that time an aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, was on a round the world flight, and disappeared in an area southwest of Hawaii. The LEXINGTON, with all planes aboard, was dispatched to find her. The search turned out to be unsuccessful, but the ship crossed the equator into the Realm of Neptunus Rex and the 180th meridian of longitude into the Realm of the Golden Dragon simultaneously, a very rare occurrence. Me and the rest of the lowly pollywogs were properly imitated. Now we are Exalted Shellbacks!
Back in Long Beach, I bought a car for about $25 and on one of my trips to Beaumont, met a pretty girl named Bettie Moore. Her father was working on the aqueduct to bring water from the Colorado River to Los Angeles. After a couple of visits I was completely and hopelessly in love! One year the Navy held maneuvers in the Atlantic Ocean, which required that the LEXINGTON, 108 feet wide, go through the Panama Canal locks, 110 feet wide. It was a squeaker, but we made it-both ways.
From the home port of Long Beach, the ship would often go out to sea on Monday morning for flight exercises or maneuvers and come back in Friday afternoon. On going out I would see the service ships, principally the* MEDUSA, VESTAL and DOBBIN. On coming back in, I would see the same ships, moored to the same berths. I decided that was the duty for me and I would transfer to one of those ships. Upon investigation I found out that it wasn't that simple. I would need a valid reason to transfer. So, since my enlistment was about up, I quit. I liked the Navy, and found out that if I reenlisted within 90 days I could request the duty I preferred. I reenlisted within the required time frame and was assigned to the MEDUSA. Oh Joy! But shortly after that the MEDUSA was transferred to the Hawaiian Fleet at Pearl Harbor and my dreams were shattered.
After a year at Pearl Harbor, the ship came back for a couple of weeks R&R and Bettie and I eloped to Yuma and got married. Well, it really wasn't an elopement, because Bettie’s father and my mother came with us. As soon as I got back to Pearl Harbor I applied for housing and transportation for Bettie, but before my request could be acted on, something else happened--
December 7, 1941 was a Sunday, a nice day, as is every day in Paradise. I had just got up from my cot in the machine shop, thinking that maybe I would have a leisurely breakfast, go ashore and rent a bicycle and go riding with some of the fellows in the shop, when I heard a noise through the open porthole that sounded like explosions. I couldn't figure it out at first." I thought maybe the Army was holding exercises. The admiral isn't going to like this. He likes it nice and quiet in the morning, especially Sundays. Then I noticed that there were several planes in the air, and when one of them banked into the sun and I saw the red circle on the wing, I knew that something was wrong. The MEDUSA was moored to a buoy on the west side of Ford Island, on the opposite side from Battleship Rowand the noise and smoke seemed to be coming from Battleship Row. About that time the general alarm sounded and,” All hands man your battle stat­ions. This is not a drill." I closed the port and went to my previously assigned battle station, which was minor, so I went topside to see what was happening. The scene was utter chaos! The UTAH was listing to port and was sinking, and most of the other ships were on fire, as was the oil on the surface of the harbor. Many men had jumped from the burning decks into the water, which was also burning. The MEDUSA had not been hit, but I could see a miniature submarine getting into position to torpedo us. Fortunately, the gunners and one of our destroyers saw it about the same time, and sank it. A Japanese plane on fire headed toward us, but hit the ship in the next berth, spilling flaming gasoline over the whole ship. I saw a friend from that ship later and said, "You took that plane for us, that's one I owe you". So we had an excuse for a drink together. A frag­ment of our own anti-aircraft shrapnel dropped on the deck near my foot. This was probably the first incident of what was later known as "Friendly Fire"! Although ships were hit and people all around us were burned, drowned, and otherwise injured and killed, the MEDUSA led a charmed life through it all and suffered only minor damage, consisting of one minor strafing.
A few facts about the raid on Pearl Harbor: The Japanese task force consisted of 9 destroyers, 8 tankers, 6 aircraft carriers, 3 cruisers, 3 submarines, 2 battleships and 353 aircraft. There were several submarines in the area also, not part of the task force. The task force came to within 200 miles north of Oahu before launching its aircraft, and retreat­ed without being discovered. There were about 100 ships at Pearl Harbor, including 8 battleships. All battleships were sunk or damaged. Fortun­ately no carriers were present. 18 fighting ships were either sunk or damaged.
In the fall of 1942, American strategy turned to amphibious landings, and I was transferred to amphibious and diesel schools in Flint, Michigan, Cleveland Ohio, and Norfolk, Virginia, ending up on LST 1059^ which was nearing completion! in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Cruising down to New Orleans on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in a full size Navy ship was an adventure in itself! After training in the Gulf Area, we proceeded to Guam, where we joined the group preparing for the invasion of Japan. The atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war.
Some people, who were never in a real war themselves, say we were wrong to use the atomic bombs, but in a war it's either "Us or them" and I would never have made it had we proceeded with the invasion.
The war's end made it possible for many draftees to go home. Although I started out on the 1059 as Chief Engineer, when the dust had settled, I was the only regular Navy officer left, so I was made Captain of that ship.
After the war, the ship made several trips around the Orient, taking Japanese soldiers from Manchuria back to Japan; Chinese Nationalist soldiers from Indochina to Manchuria; UNRRA supplies (rice, sugar flour, etc from Shanghai up the Yangtze River to Hankow. On one of these trips, taking Koreans from Japan back to Korea, a baby was born. Being born on an American ship on the high seas, he/she is an American citizen. I don't suppose I could find him now. In another of these trips, I was invited to a formal dinner given by Chiang-Kai-Chek. He was still premier of China, but was heading for Taiwan, to establish the Nationalist govern­ment there. According to news reports, this matter still isn't settled. On another of these trips, as we rounded the Shantung Peninsula, on the way from Mongolia to Shanghai, I saw some game birds on the beach. Some of the crew wanted to have some sport, so I authorized a boat trip for the volunteers, with rifles. I happened to look up the hill and saw a Chinese Communist army coming toward us. You can bet we got back to our ship but fast, before an international incident was created!
One evening, when we were anchored in the Yangtze River, the Chinese river pirates tried to take over our ship. They approached silently in small boats and climbed up the sides and stern. The lookout saw them and yelled, "All hands on deck. Stand by to repel boarders." The crew came up and we threw the invaders overboard. They left us alone after that. No firearms were used in this incident.
Then there was the Korean War, sometimes called the "Forgotten War". I was on the destroyer USS GUSHING (DD 797) then. We couldn't tell the good guys from the bad guys, so the Navy furnished us with a Korean Naval officer whose job it was to determine the nationality of the vessels we encountered. We became good friends. His name was Eun Lee or Lee Eun, I never did determine which. After the war, Bettie and I went over to visit him and family. What a transformation Seoul is! From a village of scroungey shacks with narrow dirt streets with sewers running down them, as I first saw it, to a modern city with 8-lane plaza avenues and glass-and steel buildings!
I retired from the Navy in 1958, and worked in the Security Department of Univac, finally retiring in 1981. I have lived in Salt Lake City, Utah ever since, with the same Bettie mentioned earlier."

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