He had no sooner left the area, when a tremendous explosion occurred. I felt myself in midair, tumbling over and over. I could hear bottles breaking and knives and forks whizzing past my ears . . . then, blackout, for how long I do not know. In any event, somewhat recovered but still stunned, I found myself on a pile of rubble and debris. My guess is that I hit up against the lifeline.
Somehow I managed to stagger aft to about midships on the starboard side and grasped the handrail. Many shipmates were in the same area and the ship was settling slightly below water level. Someone shouted “Abandon Ship” but an officer, who I am almost certain was Lt. Breed, countermanded that order. But several men had already jumped over the side.
Shortly afterward the bow of the O’Bannon struck Chevalier in about the area of the after engine room. Our ship responded with a severe lurch. Those of us on deck in the immediate area were hipdeep in water. As the O’Bannon backed off, a severe whirlpool, an eddying type of current and suction, was created, thereby pulling many men including myself into the sea.
Alone in the water, I made an effort to blow up my life jacket but the valve was in the open position and I was unable to close it as I was completely covered with fuel oil. Assessing my situation, I took off my shoes and stuck my pants legs into my socks in order to maintain buoyancy. I heard a call for help but by the time I had reached the area a mate had slipped beneath the surface. Shortly thereafter there was another call for assistance and again I was unsuccessful in attempting a rescue. Guns were still firing and as each shell hit the water, an external rush of cool water was felt rectally . . . a similar cause for concern was depth charges exploding on sinking ships should the safeties be off.
I continued to swim in the direction of a small boat. When I arrived in that area, I heard the voice of the enemy. Fortunately I did not cry out and gently eased out of the area. Then I swam for what seemed an interminable time toward a silhouette of one of our ships. By that time I was totally exhausted and barely able to lift my arms. Someone shouted, “Over there.” I weakly responded and before I knew it a man dove off a whaleboat and in short order I was pulled aboard.
I soon learned that despite her wound our DD 451 was still afloat, thanks to excellent damage control. Hoping that I could render some medical assistance, I requested that I be returned to the Chevalier rather than to the O’Bannon. When we arrived, the skipper, seeing how completely exhausted I was and virtually unable to move a muscle, ordered that I be taken to the O’Bannon. Once aboard the O’Bannon I sought out that ship’s doctor (Manchester), again hoping to assist in the care of the wounded. He determined that due to exhaustion and being covered with fuel oil, I would be of little help until at least the following day.
A few days later, I found that despite my harrowing experience, my wounds were relatively slight . . . contusions, abrasions, fractured ribs, and a small piece of shrapnel easily removed from one ankle.
I have only recently learned that an O’Bannon seaman named Hart was my rescuer. To him, to the crew of the whaleboat, and to the good Lord, I am ever grateful.