Thursday, November 19, 2015

When a Memory is Worth 1,000 Words

The speech below was given by LCDR Richard Halbig, USN OIC - CPF MHLD DET AK, at the USS Juneau Memorial Service on Friday, November 13, 2015.  This is his memory of the day the USS Juneau went down. .  . .

Good Morning
I would like you to join me for a moment in using your imagination as I draw you a picture.  This picture or analogy will hopefully help you relate to the plight of the USS Juneau during the cruiser night action of November 13th 1942, 73 years ago.

One account of the action as noted from the beach by an American War correspondent “the action was illuminated in brief, blinding flashes by Jap searchlights which were shot out as soon as they were turned on, by muzzle flashes from big guns, by fantastic streams of tracers, and by huge orange-colored explosions as two Jap destroyers and one of our destroyers blew up…  From the beach it resembled a door to hell opening and closing… over and over.

Now, imagine yourself as one of 13 averaged sized men standing in a small bar.  Surrounding you in groups are 16 other men who are very angry.  10 of those men could rival the starting line of the Seattle Seahawks and their wearing pads.  Now, shutter the windows and kill the lights.  This just sets the scene.  Now start firing shot guns next to everyone’s ears while starting a strobe light with irregular flashes, just to confuse things a bit. 

Now the Leaders of both groups start yelling commands to fight those around them, only you can’t understand what is being said, nor can you hear most of the words.  You know your friends are being hurt badly or even killed, and that is about all you know.

You’ve been ordered to engage the enemy, But in the confusion, you don’t know friend from foe and now you’ve been punched in the gut and taken a glancing blow to the face. 

Your injured, Can barely hear, you’re alone in a sea of confusion, concussion and blinding flashes followed by intense darkness.

You are still in the scrum, and kicking and punching wildly, occasionally connecting, but you are unsure of the effects your blows have, and you know those you face are much bigger and stronger than you are, but you fight on courageously.

You move through the fighting over to someone slumped against the wall to find a friendly who is in even worse shape than you are.  He is bleeding from the eyes, nose, and ears.  His eyes are glassy, but he is still breathing raspy breaths.

The two of you hear a command to assemble at the front of the Bar (this in an effort to bring your 
13…….. I mean 9 remaining friends back together). 

You and your beaten (mortally wounded) comrade start limping through the scrum, which seems to have lessened in intensity.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, you are struck savagely by an enemy wielding a Metal Bar.  You are hit with such force that you can hear your own skull crack which causes you to immediately spasm in uncontrollable death throws. 

As you fall, you lose touch, and truly don’t have any idea of the outcome of the fight you were just in. 

Now, let me tell you what the USS Juneau accomplished.

The battle of Guadalcanal is most often described as a land battle, but in reality, it was an air, land, and sea Campaign whose goal was the first roll back of the Japanese Empire since their major aggressions in the 1930’s and before.

Guadalcanal was the beginning of their contraction back to the Japanese Island Chain.
It was also the first major clash between the seasoned, experienced, and almost entirely successful Japanese Imperial Army and the mostly untested and inexperienced United States Marine Corps.
More than just the Marine Corps and Navy took part in the battle.  Members of all the services took part in the many battles of Guadalcanal.  In fact, Petty Officer Douglass Munro of the United States Coast Guard was awarded the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) for his actions during the Marine landings of September 24th.

In the night action I drew the allegory to a moment ago, the Japanese had 16-18 ships, 2 of which were Battleships; the others were heavy cruisers and destroyers

In contrast, we had 13 ships including 1 heavy cruiser, 4 light cruiser and 9 destroyers.  (we were outnumbered and heavily outclassed).  – As such 6 of our ships died, and 6 others took heavy to severe damage.

We gave as well as we took though.  Our smaller, meager force did wound the enemy.  We sunk 7 of their ships including one of their Battleships (an Enormous dreadnought of the sea).  We also heavily damaged 3 other ships.

The numbers though do not tell the entire story.  The true outcome of the battle was the decision made by the Japanese leader after the night actions.  The Japanese withdrew their Naval forces from the Guadalcanal area that day, which prevented them from accomplishing their mission –To bombard Henderson Air Field and to land 7,000 troops along with their supplies and heavy equipment Reinforcing the troops already on the island.

This delayed the Japanese on the island from attacking (for days) until they could reinforce.  This allowed United States Marine Corps General Vandergrift to strengthen his tenuous hold at Lunga Point and defend against the Attacks that did come a few days later.

ALL Battles, Campaigns and Wars are won due to many variables.  TIME is always among those important variables, and that is what the USS Juneau bought with its blood and the lives of her sailors.

-Of her crew of 697, only 10 would ever know of the success her sacrifice purchased.  Those 10 were pulled from the water 8 days after their ship had died.
-The 687 men who died on the USS Juneau were among the 5 Thousand US Navy and Coast Guardsmen and the 4 Thousand 3 Hundred US Army and Marine Corps casualties of the battles of Guadalcanal.

Please join me in a moment of silence to honor our fallen comrades from the ship that bears the name of this great City.

LCDR Richard Halbig, USN

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