The Dead and the Living
This afternoon our dead were laid out in a long row on the quarterdeck. It did not look like a funeral parlor; we did not have the fluff and flowers due the dead; just that long, grim row. All day the First Lieutenant and several men had been working, carrying pieces of our former shipmates up the ladder from the Handling Rooms to the Main Deck and sewing them up in canvas, with a 5-inch projectile in the foot of each. It was a big, dirty job.

In #4 Handling Room, several bodies, detached arms and legs and mutilated torsos washed back and forth in several inches of water with each roll of the ship when the job was begun. Now the ship was beginning to look somewhat cleaned up. But back in #3 Handling Room where the 14-inch shells had struck could be seen a headless body, slumped over in an upright position where he had fallen. Still clutched in his arms was a 5-inch powder cartridge.

The stories of heroism were passed from person to person, and what had happened in our hour of hell began to be clarified.

Jackson was standing by his torpedo tubes and he had the satisfaction of seeing his torpedoes explode against the enemy hulls. Smitty was in the torpedo shack at his depth charge control station when things started to happen. He told the other torpedoman in there with him—in his piping voice: “I’m going out to help Jackson.”

The other man tried to get him to stay in under the protection of the torpedo shack but Smitty repeated, “No, I’m going out to help Jackson.”

Almost as soon as he reached Jackson’s side the Jap shells hit, killing both of them and maiming three of the four men stationed on the tubes.

When the after guns were hit and the #3 gun completely ablaze, CTM Keenum ran down from his station on a 20mm gun and with a hose playing on him to keep him from being burned to a crisp, he climbed through the smoke and flame into the #3 handling room and flooded the after magazines. Had the fire reached these magazines, we would have exploded in much the same manner as the Juneau.

Chief Gunner’s Mate Hodge was knocked unconscious when #4 gun received a direct hit, but managed to crawl clear in a few seconds when he regained consciousness. During the process of the next few minutes he jumped in and fought the fire; inside #3 Handling Room he throw some hot, spewing powder tanks over the side before they had a chance to explode. Some of these did indeed explode before they hit the water. Then, somehow, passing by the damaged torpedo tubes, he applied tourniquets to Shrleves and Hawkins’ legs and had them taken to the Wardroom—possibly saving their lives.

One man, with second-degree burns on his face and hands, was ordered to report to the Wardroom for treatment; but before he went, he jumped down to the deck below, reeled out a fire hose and was back fighting the fire.

Four members of the crew of #3 gun, with their clothing completely ablaze, jumped over the aide in their anguish. The First Lieutenant, Hanna, in half the time it takes to tell it, out loose a life raft to give the men a chance for survival. Three of the men were picked up the next day, in good condition. The other, Joe Godecker, was lost.

Ray Calhoun came down from the director and went aft to supervise fighting the fires. He crawled through a shell hole with the handling room and powder tanks still smoldering and inspected the magazines. He found that there was only a few feet of water in the magazines, so ho flooded them the rest of the way to make sure they would never explode.

A pile of potato crates on the after dock house absorbed the shell fragments and saved two 20mm machine gun crews from serious injury. One small fragment did catch one of the machine gunners in the rump. His principal concern and comment was, “What will I tell my old man when he asks where I was injured?”

Heroism was commonplace that night. The more I think of all the stories, the more, I am convinced that the Sterett had the finest crew that any ship ever had; they may have at some time been equaled, but never excelled. Some of the men that we had thought of as “bums” came through when the chips were down in a manner that will always have my deepest reverence. Not a person on the ship that I know of thought of himself — only of the ship and his shipmates. That was the only reason that the ship and many men lived to fight again.

Our casualty list was long when we entered the names In the Log the next morning: there were 28 men listed as dead, 13 seriously Injured and four missing.

Late in the afternoon, all hands assembled back in the fantail with bowed heads as the Captain read the traditional burial-at-sea ceremony; and at the completion made a few remarks of his own, ending with the words: “WE WILL NOT FORGET OUR FORMER SHIPMATES!” There was a quaver in his voice as he said them. There was not a dry eye in the entire crew assembled.

The guard of riflemen fired three volleys, and as the names were called out, one by one the mute bags of canvas were lifted and slid over the stern, disappearing in the wake of the ship. “Jackson . . . . . Walker . . . . .Kula . . . . . Klepack . . . . . Perry . . . . .Martin . . . . . Smith, M.E. . . . . . Robinson,” the names droned on. “Smith, Joseph . . . . . Kreilick . . . . . Stapleton . . . . . Spaulding . . . . . Tynan . . . . . .” Each name meant a great deal to us. It seemed that the ceremony would never end. When the last of our departed shipmates had slid into the blue water of the Coral Sea, the crew slowly and silently walked away. Darkness soon set in; we were safe from air attacks for the day.

The Sterett had paid a terrible price for victory. (continued)