Then-Lt. George Gowen was Chevalier’s Engineering Officer in 1943.

Bath, Maine

All of us who reported aboard Chevalier in Bath, Maine, owe a debt of gratitude to all of the regular Navy officers and men in our crew who supervised our training for wartime service. They had lived in genteel poverty in the Navy before World War II, with low salaries and few promotions, and they used their experience and professional knowledge to commission the ship and train us to make her one of the finest US fighting destroyers of the war. We will be forever grateful to Captain McLean, XO Wilson, Engineering Officer Hansen and all the regular Navy CPOs and petty officers.

I remember that several of the officers lived in a cabin on Brigham’s Cove while the ship was under construction. Our next door neighbor was a former mayor of Bath who had been impeached and removed from office. He was a good friend to us, however, and took us out in his power boat almost every afternoon to pull lobster pots in the cove. We had a steady diet of lobster and beer each night.

One weekend, the mayor loaned his catboat to Ed Breed, Jim Turner and me. Ed was the only one experienced in sailing small craft, so Jim and I were his crew. We had a bottle of booze with us and we made a day of it, sailing out into Casco Bay. On the return to Brigham’s Cove, Ed turned over the conn to Jim so Ed could stand up in the stern to relieve himself. At that moment, a strong gust of wind hit us broadside. Jim put a death grip on the tiller and the sail, and we capsized. By good fortune, an old fisherman was watching us from his home on the shore, and he jumped in his skiff and rowed out to us. I believe he saved our lives, because we weren’t exactly sober, and the water was really cold. We recovered the catboat and returned it to the mayor, but I’m afraid the people of Bath didn’t think much of naval officers’ seamanship.

African Invasion, 1942

I remember the convoy escort duty we had for the African invasion. Because so many of our ships had been cut in half by torpedoes during the war, the skipper ordered George Wilson, the XO, and I, the Assistant Engineer, to bunk in the upper handling room for the 1.1-inch gun in the after part of the ship. The theory was that if the captain and chief engineer would be lost when the forward half of the ship was blown off in action, the XO and I would be safe in the after section and could navigate and command from the after conning station. We slept on mattresses on the deck across the Atlantic and back while sea spray blew into that cold little room through the ventilators and wet everything down. We both soon got to know each other better than either of us wanted to, and it was a great relief to hear that we were ordered to the warm South Pacific.

Do you remember our return to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where we were all looking forward to liberty and the commodore ordered that we start scraping paint off the bulkheads in the living spaces? Many of the crew never got ashore. Of course, the reason for the order was valid—our ships were being lost from internal fires in the paintwork in battle, but we were all angry that it couldn’t be delayed for a few days. The skipper ordered that the first room to be scraped was the commodore’s, which made us feel somewhat better.

Enroute to the South Pacific

I remember our trip to the Panama Canal through the Caribbean. We were patrolling station in the destroyer screen of the task group and the officers had sat down for the noon meal in the wardroom. The XO, George Wilson, had the conn on the bridge. We were having a turkey dinner, as I recall, and all of had been served but not started to eat. The skipper and the commodore were seated at the starboard end of the table. Suddenly, the XO ordered a sharp turn to port, the ship heeled over to starboard, and all the meals went sliding down the table and all over the commodore and the skipper. In perfect silence, we picked up our chairs and our dishes, sat down and finished the meal without a word spoken.

Do you remember the transit of the Panama Canal? A lot of us were on the fantail when we went through the locks. Since it was close to Christmas, the Assistant Gunnery Officer, Vernon Burnin’ Binion, led us in singing Christmas Carols, and the people on the locks joined in. I remember we also sang “It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down,” but we had no idea it would apply to the Chevalier some day.

Up the Slot

I remember coming back to Tulagi after a run up the slot when we would tie up to an ammunition barge and all hands would carry 5-inch rounds and powder cans to the upper handling rooms. A Catholic Chaplain would stand near the brow and give each of us communion as we walked past him. I guess he didn’t think we needed to go to confession after being up the slot, and he didn’t ask us if we were Protestant, Jewish Hebrew, Muslim, Catholic or whatever—we were all one faith going into battle.

I remember that all the more junior officers had to stand watch on Walt Hughes’ coding machine, which operated like a typewriter. Classified messages would come in by radio as a series of meaningless letters. We would then type the letters into the machine, which would print the message in plain English. Each message would begin and end with an unrelated padding of words to prevent the enemy from breaking the code. The padding was often of more interest than the message itself. One message I remember began with: ERROL FLYNN’S LATEST PICTURE/ MESSAGE/ I’LL DO IT AGAIN WITH SHIRLEY TEMPLE.


Do you remember the bum boats that used to come to the ship when we were moored in Tulagi Harbor for refueling and replenishment? They sold everything from canes to cat’s eye jewelry. One enterprising gent had his daughter in the boat who stood up wearing nothing but a US Navy towel. We would bid for the towel using packs of cigarettes and packages of pipe tobacco. When the price was right, the old gentleman would whip the towel off his daughter, toss it to the highest bidder, and whip another towel around her so quickly none of us got to see a thing.

I remember George Wilson wanted us all to pool our money after the war to buy a liberty ship. He wanted to fill it with beads, trinkets (and Navy towels) and sail to the Solomon Islands with Gold Star mothers who wanted to see where their boys had fought. He figured we could sell all that junk back to the natives and get all our money back that we had given to the bum boats.

Do you remember that we had to order water hours because the hot tropical waters were so full of various sea salts our evaporators were encrusted with them and could not produce enough fresh water? Then we found a solution in Espiritu Santo when we went alongside the destroyer tender. I had enough alcohol on board to test boiler water for a hundred years, so I slipped some to our chiefs who then invited some chiefs from the tender to our chief’s quarters to have a drink or two. This resulted in our receiving special treatment from the tender. One special job was the installation of a large GI can piped into the evaporator so that we could mix up a solution of cornstarch and boiler compound and feed it into the evaporator with the sea water. The new solution prevented the sea salts from sticking to the evaporator tubes, which stayed clean from then on. No more water hours and plenty of water for showers! We sure had every ship guessing why we ordered so much cornstarch when we took on supplied.

I remember the night we were sunk that after I made an inspection of the engineering spaces, I went to the bridge to report to the captain. He was lying on his back just coming to after being knocked out from the explosion. He finally recovered enough to hear my report, and he looked up with half a smile and said, “Damn it, Gowen, if you had been making the right speed the torpedo would have hit the engine room!”

When we finally abandoned ship, I went over the port side aft and swam to a life raft I had cut loose earlier. Other crew members were already aboard, and they began shouting to me as I approached. “Put it out,” they hollered. Finally, I understood. I had gone into the water with my 4-cell flashlight in my hip pocket. The water shorted it out and it was shining back up into the sky. I emptied the batteries into the sea and my shipmates finally let me aboard. The history of the battle states that there was a flare from a Japanese plane that had been dropped in the water. I still think it was my flashlight.

I remember that we used to trade movies with other ships in the task group. USS O’Bannon’s engineer had asked me to trade a Veronica Lake movie to him, but we hadn’t gotten around to it before the battle. When we finally were picked up by the O’Bannon, I climbed the Jacob’s ladder covered with oil and soaked to the skin, glad to be still alive, and the engineer came running up to me and asked, “Did you bring the Veronica Lake movie?”


Memories of getting back to Tulagi, and being transported to Nouméa to the survivors’ camp, are pretty hazy. I do remember that I was the senior surviving officer who could walk, and Chief Jeff Linn was my driver who got me around to make all the many arrangements. When it was finally set up that the crew would return on a Matson Line ship to the US, Jeff and I reported to the air base where we were to leave on a Martin gull-winged flying boat. I lay down for a nap before our schedule take-off when suddenly the plaster came off the ceiling and I heard a tremendous explosion. Running outside, I could see that the whole ammunition dump at Nouméa had blown up! Shells were going off in the sky and ships were being towed out of the harbor. The pilots of our aircraft called to us to get aboard, and we took off, sorry to see the awful destruction, but happy to be out of the war for a while and enroute home.

I’m sure that you will all agree that our service in Chevalier affected our whole lives. Those who came through looked deep into their own hears and souls and characters and they have marched forward through all their trials and tests with pride and confidence.

My thanks to all who helped make Chevalier a memorable ship, and who helped me have a wonderful career in the Navy.

All the best,
George Gowen
Captain, USN