Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
I recently had occasion to revisit the history of the destroyer escort my father served on in the U.S. Navy during the last two years of World War ll in the Pacific Theater (the reference specs are included in the post from May 27, 2019, below, including a few updates).
And I found something new.
Some historian in the Wiki summary thought the ship was featured in the opening scenes of the 1949 musical On the Town* starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Another reference (some film notes) negates that. But before I vetted the first report to find it was most likely another ship, the discovery provided a little bit of thoroughly enjoyable moments in time here in 2020 to share that tidbit of (possible) history with my family, to think that just maybe….
Maybe here was the very destroyer escort that my father spent two important, critical, dangerous, memorable, historic, and very human years of his young life not knowing if at any moment, they would be his last.
Maybe here, on the very ladder the stars sang and danced their way down to the dock in New York City in their story, Dad ran up and down in the real war in his actual story during the ordinary and extraordinary days of the last two years of the war in the South Pacific, his hands on those very rails, the sound of the water slapping against the hull of the newly-commissioned “tin can,” the whistle blowing…
We have little other than a thin, yellowed collection of the usual paperwork of life that forms Dad’s narrative. He was a man of few words, keeping most of his history to himself, so this possible film artifact, if true, would have been like a part of his early life come alive again, in a way.
At least in this daughter’s eyes, as I watched it over and over before sharing…
But here’s why I share it now, and why I also share the post from last year.
Because of the potent message from not only my father’s experience but also concerning the “theater of the world war within which we live now,” one fraught also, many believe, with dangers of a more existential kind, both blatant and subtle, I believe it’s none too soon to repost it although Veteran’s Day this year is a few weeks off–coming eight days after election day, Nov. 3rd, in the United States of America.
I believe Dad’s history and his scant legacy can, in part, address our conflict now, too, when some would negate the depth and meaning of all such histories, small and great, in a mad dash to reduce the world back to year zero, a political and ideological tabula rasa on which they would conjure their own narratives of the past in yet another kind of war of conquest, this one against minds and hearts–as well as against real events that showcase not only the bad but also the better and the best of what mankind can do in the face of the ever-present dark side.
In their modern war against, you might say, truth itself.
See what you think–and to the current “war news”: vote with both wisdom from today as well as from that “greatest generation,” Dad’s era, who knew, first hand, what it means to keep the world as free as we can, because it’s OUR time, now, to fight against the modern brand of totalitarianism in some ways the same as in any era, in others, far more lethal.
And may I be the first to honor any veterans who may stop by and read this.
Your service, whether in front lines or front offices (my father was a yoeman–he wrote reports and kept track of things), mattered then; matters now.
On Memorial Day 2019: A Personal Legacy–and Warning–from Between the Lines of a New Book on WWII’s “Tin Cans and Greyhounds”
In an article by Elise Cooper in today’s American Thinker, “Remembering the Men of the Little Ships,” featuring an interview with Clint Johnson, author of the 2019 book Tin Cans and Greyhounds: The Destroyers That Won Two World Wars Cooper “reminds us that those serving on ships put their life at risk daily.”
The men in ships referenced in her article and Johnson’s book are those who served our nation–and helped preserve other nations–on the so-called “destroyer” and “destroyer escort” ships of the United States Navy.
They were called “tin cans” and/or “greyhounds” because “they had thin metal hulls that were useful for quickly navigating the seas but not a great protection for the men serving on those ships” notes Cooper.
In other words, survival on a destroyer (or a destroyer escort) was not guaranteed.
Cooper includes a quote featured in Johnson’s book by Lieutenant Commander Robert Copeland as he “calmly told his crew as their tiny, unarmored destroyer escort rushed toward giant, armored Japanese battleships at the Battle off Samar on October 25, 1944 that they were fighting ‘against overwhelming odds from which survival could not be expected.'”
“Unbelievably,” adds Cooper, “the Navy’s scratch force of destroyers and escort carriers chased off the entire Japanese battle fleet, though at great cost.”
Between the Lines: Dad’s “Tin Can”
My father, Yoeman Second Class, (YN2) Joseph P. Beveridge, served on one of those tin cans, the USS Ulvert M. Moore (DE-442), which was a John C. Butler-class destroyer escort acquired by the U.S. Navy during World War II, Lt. Comdr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., the President’s son, in command. Dad served on the ship in 1944-45.
Like a lot of the men and women who served in World War II, and prior wars, Dad spoke very little of his experiences unless he was recounting, on rare occasions, some of the funny stories, or the stories he’d turned to humorous accounts. We loved his wartime anecdotes, and each time they were just as funny if only because Dad had an infectious laugh and, well, they were really hilarious–if you didn’t know the dangerous nature of the wartime efforts such “tin can sailors” were engaged in.
I loved them also because what with the many challenges Dad and Mom faced raising eleven children as best they could in the fifties, sixties, and beyond, there were darker periods of family life where humor took a back seat.
I do not recall, however, Dad ever talking about why he spent time on Hawaii recovering from a wound sustained while on duty, or even what his injury was.
Nor do I recall him ever talking about what I’ve learned through historical accounts about the ship’s crew having to go to “general quarters,” or battle stations, on many occasions due to attacks by Japanese “kamikaze” (suicide) pilots, during other kinds of air attacks, or when in the search of–and during attacks on–enemy submarines while all the while wondering, as combatants in particularly vulnerable situations do, if this would be the time…
He also never recounted the times when his crew rescued the casualties of other ships that suffered considerably more damage than did the Moore. He never talked about the men who were brought aboard, particularly survivors of submarine attacks who were burnt from the dense, smoking flames of a diesel fuel spill now spreading on the surface of the Pacific and that undoubtedly smelled like Hell.
He also didn’t tell us what it was like when in his official capacity he had to bring the news of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death to his son, still in command, during the final stages of the war.
At least he never talked about all of this to us kids.
The Ship’s Last Days
According to the Wikipedia summary, linked above, incorporating excerpts from the Naval History and Heritage Command report, the Ulvert M. Moore’s last involvement in the Pacific Theater of WWII, the ship served as one of “the supporting escorts for TF 32, then en route to Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender. On 2 September,  the escort vessel entered Tokyo Bay, in the words of her ship’s historian, as ‘a fitting culmination to approximately 14 months of strenuous operation.’ [this historical comment, if not actually written by Dad, was likely contributed to by his YN2 duties as one who chronicled the ship’s activities].
“After conducting antisubmarine and mine patrol duties in Japanese home waters, escorting Japan-bound transports with occupation forces embarked, and destroying floating mines with light-caliber gunfire, Ulvert M. Moore operated in the Philippines into the winter before she returned via Pearl Harbor to the United States. Arriving at San Diego, California, on 22 November, the destroyer escort was decommissioned there on 24 May 1946 and placed in reserve.”
Dad came home shortly thereafter, met Mom, and the rest is (our) history.
In keeping with Dad’s taciturn nature, this will be a brief summary of his legacy as part of what has been called “The Greatest Generation,” i.e., the generation in the United States that grew up in the stark years of The Great Depression, practiced the values of faith, family, and hard work that enabled them to do the difficult, usually thankless, more often dangerous work of defending this nation–and other nations–in that war wherein the world witnessed the unprecedented greatest attacks on freedom of life and liberty the world has perhaps ever known.
Dad might summarize it like this, I think. “I was preparing to go to the trade school (on scholarship) after high school and I got my letter from Uncle Sam” (draft notice).
He chose working for the U.S. Naval recruiting office in Washington, D.C., for his first duty station before he was sent to the South Pacific.
“Yeah, we saw some action in the Pacific, ” he’d likely say.
He might then immediately switch the subject and talk about the musicals he’d seen in New York City during his first years on days off, Oklahoma, his favorite, or the museums and historical tours on the east coast, of which he was a big fan.
Or, and this is more likely, he’d say, after taking his pipe out of his mouth and throwing his head back already well into a rolling laugh, “Did I ever tell you the story about Thermingale Shamblin**?”
Of course. But did we care?
Tell us again, Dad.
And then immediately he would launch into the gut-buster about his shipmate with the big feet who, at least according to Dad, was the world’s clumsiest individual, inevitably stumbling up, then down, then up, then down again the ship’s many ladders and narrow stairways, especially during the mad dash when general quarters blared over the loudspeakers.
A few siblings heard more stories, especially my brothers who are military veterans, from whom I learned a few of the items I related above.
But that’s about it.
Dad never went to military reunions nor did he join any veteran’s clubs. He let us play with his Navy “pea coat” until we wore it out.
If he ever suffered from “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” what they used to call “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) we never heard of it. Of course, now we think perhaps this may have been a factor in some kind of depression he seemed to slip into from time to time, when he would sleep a lot on his few days off, quietly drink his quart of beer every night, become even more taciturn than usual.
However, as perhaps his one, non-verbal testament to military service and war and politics and global, national, and local power-mongers that are always a part of what causes man to be so inhumane to man and leads to all the wars, when once Dad boarded the train back to Upper Michigan, he opened the window and threw out his Navy-issue rucksack with all of its wartime contents and memorabilia–maybe even still smelling a little bit of burning diesel fuel flaming on ocean waters amid the screams of injured and dying men, very young men, really, like him.
My Turn on Dad’s War Time Legacy on a Day for Remembering our Fallen Heroes–and Taking Warning
I did not inherit a taciturn nature like Dad’s.
But I did inherit his love of music and museums, history, and a strong sense of fair play and justice. I inherited his faith in God, as well, which came later on in his life, but it came.
My takeaway from his and other WWII veterans’ legacies that I’ve listened to and read of, from this end of history, is this–and I think Dad would agree.
As long as there are those who continue to worship the kind of power and greed as did the despots in Germany, Italy, Russia, Cambodia, China, and elsewhere, in the last century, who left in their wake millions of dead civilians, cities and villages and farmlands destroyed, and far, far too many dead war heroes of all kinds, everywhere, let alone in all of human history, it is this:
HAVEN’T WE LEARNED YET?
Apparently not, as the world once again tenses up–and arms up–for some kind of imminent Armageddon, and very young men–and women–are once again sent [and now in 2020, lured] to the most vulnerable front lines as the war-mongers invent subtler and more devastating ordnance [and sales pitches], some, on the highest of tech levels, but all crafted to destroy.
Of course there is a prophetic narrative in what evil must come.
If indeed God gave men and women a free will, chances are 50/50 any invention will be used for good as well as for evil. Although our contemporary wars may be fought with the most sophisticated weapons, the impetus for war remains the same for all.
There will always be the “dark side 50%,” as it were, those who view innovation in technology and power as means of conquest and control.
If Dad were still alive, I believe that, in all the headlines pointing to impending war today, he, too, might agree it’s the same salesmen and saleswomen of the ideologies that drove the last century’s megalomaniacs to murder millions of innocent people and destroy their lands who are lurking just behind the curtains today, and advertising the same ideological Utopia to fool (later to force) the masses into a false hope of something better if they hand over all their rights and all their own power.
I think Dad would sniff out this Hell, too.
And I think he would encourage us to toss out all the rucksacks, so to speak, filled with Socialism, Communism, Marxism, and all the other related “isms” advertised on glossy banners and on smiling faces as the megalomaniacs’ stock in trade they always are.
And I think he would agree with me and millions of others with a sense of history and justice who say today: don’t buy it.
I believe that is part of Dad’s legacy that would continue today, as one who served with his shipmates on one of the “little ships” in the tragic aftermath caused by all the same “isms” that necessitated a world war then…
And here is another legacy of sorts, the kind you read between the lines, an encouraging legacy that keeps hope alive in every era and was illustrated on the seas of the South Pacific back in the second world war by that little “scratch force” of tin can boats : they did a whole lot more that they were ever expected to.
When you think about it.
And all those battle reports like the ones Dad logged reveal.
And, come to think of it, we can likely do a whole lot more, too, today, in each of our own “battle stations” than we think we can.
Or that today’s enemies of freedom and justice think we can.
So carry on, family, friends, and “freedom-lovers everywhere” (to borrow a classic phrase).
That’s what I think Dad would say, too.
He might add, “And don’t makes yourselves repeat the kind of ____ (fill in your favorite “sailor’s language” as Mom used to call Dad’s favorite expletives) we had to go through back then.”
*I mean, wouldn’t it have been delightful if that were Dad’s ship? A close-up appears at about the 1:17 mark.
**I’m pretty sure one of these is correct: Dad made up Thermingale’s name, or I have outrageously misspelled it. However, if it is the real name and spelled correctly, and if Mr. Shamblin, or your loved ones, is/are still alive, my apologies. But you, your father/spouse/grandfather uncle is still quite famous–and well appreciated–in my family, as we are sure, now, he helped not only provide a little comic relief for my dad and others on board during those dangerous, tense times, as well as adding to the legend and the lore of what was life on the USS Ulvert M Moore during its tour of duty in the South Pacific during World War II.