Doris (Dorie) Miller Memorial

Mar 25
Posted by Dan Filed in Wartime Naval & Merchant Marine

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Petty Officer Doris (Dorie) Miller was the first of very many African American heroes of World War II. Miller was born and raised in Waco, Texas, joining the US Navy in 1939 at the age of 19. On December 7, 1941 Miller was stationed aboard the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor. Although a mess attendant collecting laundry below decks at the time of the attack, Miller hurried topside, assisting to wounded sailors (including the ship’s dying Captain), participating in damage control & rescue efforts, and finally manning a 50-caliber antiaircraft machine gun. For his courage that day Dorie Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, the Navy’s second highest award for valor, personally presented by Admiral Chester Nimitz. Miller’s story was extensively covered  by the black press and civil rights organizations in the United States. The War Department sent him on a national tour to encourage enlistment. Upon completion of that tour in mid-1943 Miller was assigned to the new escort carrier Liscome Bay. The ship participated in the American offensive in the Gilbert Islands, including the bitter fighting on Tarawa. A fascinating article on Miller’s entire naval career by Michael D. Hull can be found in the February 2016 issue of “Naval History” magazine.

On November 23, 1943 the Liscome Bay was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-175. Violent explosions rocked the ship and she sank in twenty-three minutes. Of her 916 officers and crew, only 272 survived. Dorie Miller was lost at sea

Dorie Miller has never been forgotten. Over the years Miller has been memorialized in numerous ways – schools have been named after him, a Miller Family Park was established at Pearl Harbor, a stamp bearing his likeness issued by the US Postal Service in 2010, and a US Navy Knox Class frigate the USS Miller (DE-1091) was commissioned in 1973. I have recently learned of a stunning new monument being proposed in Miller’s hometown of Waco, Texas. A rendering of the beautiful design can be seen above, and I’ll include other renderings at the end of this post. Fundraising is nearly complete. You can help complete this worthy effort by visiting the beautiful web site for this proposed memorial at http://www.dorismillermemorial.org and by making a donation. The design concept and the approved site are unforgettable. Please help make this memorial to Dorie Miller and the other lost souls on the Liscome Bay a reality.

 

 

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Overhead View of the Miller Memorial in Waco, Texas

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Doris (Dorie) Miller with his Navy Cross

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USS Miller

 

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USS Liscome Bay

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Site of the Dorie Miller Memorial

Steamship Northerner, Centerville Beach, CA

Oct 6

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My favorite Lost at Sea memorials are the ones found off the beaten track. Centerville Beach is located north of Cape Mendocino, approximately five miles west of the village of Ferndale. The beach is nine miles long, with sweeping vistas of the Pacific to the west and the redwoods to the east. On most days you’re likely to have the entire beach to yourself. On a tall bluff overlooking the beach is a tall white cross, a monument to the steamship SS Northerner, lost on January 6, 1860.

The Northerner was built in 1847 in New York City. She spent her first few years serving the east coast of the United States, but eventually moved to San Francisco, where she established a regular passenger and mail route from San Francisco to the Columbia River and north to Washington. Her last voyage from San Francisco ended when she hit a submerged rock just a few miles offshore from Centerville Beach. The ship was carrying 108 persons at the time of the wreck. 70 people were saved, mostly due to the heroic efforts of the local citizens living around Ferndale. 38 others perished. Some bodies were eventually recovered and buried on a bluff overlooking the site of the wreck. Other victims were lost to the Pacific…

In 1921 a white cross monument was built directly above the burial site of the recovered dead. The original monument was destroyed in an earthquake centered in Cape Mendocino in 1991. Local residents rebuilt the monument and it was rededicated on February 11, 1995. It serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of ocean travel – and as a memorial to lives lost at sea in this remote and most beautiful area.

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Bodega Head, California

Aug 23
Posted by Dan Filed in Uncategorized

Many of the monuments on this blog are great works of art. Others are quite simple, yet powerful in their own way. This monument is located on Bodega Head, just outside the fishing community of Bodega Bay, California. It looks west over the Pacific. At one time Bodega Bay was one of the largest salmon fishing ports in the world. It is now reduced in size, yet fishing remains a vital part of the local economy. There is seldom a year where local fishermen are not not lost at sea.
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Air France 447

May 25
Posted by Dan Filed in Air Crashes

17b9d348d82411e2945c22000ae90026_7The recent disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has drawn comparisons to the loss of Air France Flight 447 on June 1, 2009. Air France was on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. It was lost approximately 600 miles northeast of Natal, Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean, at a cost of 228 lives. While the precise location of the crash was known almost immediately, with pieces of wreckage and bodies recovered within days, it would take almost two years for the majority of the aircraft to be located on the bottom of the Atlantic and for the flight recorders to be recovered. Analysis of the flight recorder data confirmed early predictions about the cause of the accident. Icing on the aircraft pitot tube sensors caused speed sensors to report incorrect data, at which time the autopilot disengaged. The flight crew became confused by the loss of instrumentation, never fully realizing the exact nature of their situation. The actions of the crew resulted in a stall and a subsequent loss of controlled flight, the aircraft plunging 33,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. Recovery efforts over two long years resulted in finding the remains of the majority of the passengers and crew. No remains for 50 people were recovered, however. Those 50 remain forever lost at sea.

Two similar monuments on opposite sides of the Atlantic memorialize the lives lost. One monument is located in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The largest cemetery in Paris at 119 acres, this elegant cemetery holds the last earthly remains of thousands of souls, many the most famous in French and world history. Outside of Rio de Janeiro, on an ocean site facing the direct route to Paris, stands a similar monument. Both monuments feature an etched glass pane with 228 birds flying on the panes. The panes rest on black granite bases which list the names of all 228 lives lost. The etched glass contains the specifics of the accident and the home countries of the dead.

The location of the two monuments is both obvious and fortuitous. While they include the departure point and intended destination of Air France 447, these sites assure that thousands every year will visit the monuments. The symbolism of the birds on the glass panes is quite beautiful and meaningful – while the earthly lives of the crew and passengers of Air France 447 may have ended in the Atlantic Ocean, their souls have taken flight to their ultimate destinations.

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The Figurehead Memorial – Bermuda

Nov 30

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The most enjoyable and satisfying aspect of writing this blog is hearing from strangers commenting on a post or directing my attention to a memorial previously unknown to me. Recently I received an email from Nadia Ming, calling my attention to the Figurehead Memorial on St. David’s Island, Bermuda. My sincere appreciation to her for all the background information for this post. All Photographs in the post are courtesy of Nadia Ming.

The memorial was originally proposed in January 2003, when two fishermen were lost at sea in rough weather. The memorial, by Bermuda artist and native Bill Ming, was dedicated on November 5, 2005 by HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.

I often speculate about the thought process of the artist when writing these posts. This post is special, however, as Nadia Ming provided me with Bill’s original vision for the project.

Maquette for Memorial for Those Lost at Sea

“As an ex-seaman who worked aboard the Queen of Bermuda I felt inspired and motivated to submit my representation of the Memorial for Those Lost at Sea. The theme of maritime life is very close to my art and ideas therefore this sculpture is intended to be a work of commemoration for the known and unknown souls lost to the tides of time yet alive through our memories and chronicles. 

This memorial should honour our local fishermen/women who cast their nets and pots to scrape an existence from their catch. Bermudians lost to their loved ones as a result of storms or hurricane and the African slaves who perished during the long arduous Middle Passage.

I have tried to capture these elements, creating the spirit of a beacon that acts as a guiding and welcoming sight in times of storm and calm, a lookout for sailors who sail beyond that horizon of hope. 

The form of my sculpture takes the shape of an upturned vessel, which points to the skies and stands erect on a compass due east. Barnacles, shells and a map of Bermuda tattoo the face/mask like limpets clinging to a hulks underbelly. These would stand proud of the surface providing tactile information for people with visual impairments.

Braids of rope frame a cabinet, which houses a paddle for that proverbial creek; an hourglass with sand running out and a life preserver to keep ones head above the water. Overseeing these articles shelters an open logbook that can display the names of all ”Bermudians lost at sea,” alternatively the base could also provide space for names, which would be visually accessible for people in wheelchairs. 

I envisage that the final design could be produced in metal (possibly bronze) and/or stone, which would be sympathetic to the site and have durability.”

I believe Mr. Ming captured every element he envisioned in this beautiful memorial. The artist is pictured in the first picture below. I encourage everyone to learn more about Mr. Ming and his art at: http://www.billming.com/index.php

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Nadia pointed out two very important additional elements of the memorial in her emails. The first was that The Figurehead Memorial is also part of The African Diaspora Heritage Trail (ADHT), which has been officially designated part of UNESCO Slave Route Project. Take the time to visit the ADHT website at: http://www.adht.bm. I think you will find yourself, like me, spending many fascinating hours learning about “the global narrative of people and culture of African descent” – and the very valuable and important effort to encourage everyone to visit these sites of historical and cultural importance and enrichment.

Information on the UNESCO Slave Route Project can be found at :http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/dialogue/the-slave-route.

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Men and women of African descent have sailed the oceans since the beginning of recorded history. The earliest known ocean voyages were from Northern Africa to Malta and Crete. During the Great Age of Sail (1600 – 1850) over 20% of all able-bodied seamen were of African descent – some were slaves, but most were free Blacks. Today they still command and crew the warships, merchant vessels, passenger ships and fishing fleets of the world – and daily face the dangers and the majesty of the open ocean.

Approximately 70 names of those lost at sea from Bermuda are engraved at the base of the memorial. All their names can be found at: http://bernews.com/2010/03/lost-at-sea-memorial-full-list-of-names/.

In closing this post, the poem below is inscribed in the open pages of the logbook on the memorial. The poet’s words were inspired by the book of Revelations of St. John the Divine, Chapter 10:5,6 – “And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven. And swore by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, and the earth and the things that are in it, that time should be no longer.”

 

THE END OF TIME

“Upon the restless rolling deep

That once the mighty tempest spawned;

Now lies the racing crest asleep.

Beneath that peaceful glassy plain;

All ships and men are there interred;

And all are ‘neath that blanket lain;

Tho’ strove with main now undisturbed.

Beneath that awful silent shroud;

Beneath that fearful mocking stew;

Mingled bone and steel as one

Forever wed as silten brew.

Wreckage, war and nature’s knife;

Trophies piled are theirs to be;

But wills again ‘lasting life,

Victorious, glorious, – NO MORE THE SEA”

By the late Allan E. Doughty Sr.   1922-2013

 

 

Submarine Memorial – United States Naval Academy

May 24

IMG_0287I saw this memorial to the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Service during a recent visit to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I was struck by the faces in the bow wave of the submarine – perhaps lost at sea sailors watching over living shipmates on active patrols around the world.

During World War II, thousands of United States Naval officers and men never returned to their home ports. Locations of some of the sunken submarines have been identified. The locations of others have never been established – and quite probably never will. The lost men are listed on various Tablets of the Missing at U.S. military cemeteries within the theater of operations where the submarines were last known to be operating. Perhaps, the spirits of all these lost men are riding the bow waves of the present submarine force – and will continue to watch their shipmates for future generations…

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Survival

Jan 27
Posted by Dan Filed in Uncategorized

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For a variety of reasons I have been unable to update this blog for several months. To get started again I thought I’d insert a post featuring the sand sculpture art of Peter Vogelaar and David Ducharme. I came across this fascinating lost at sea sculpture while researching the rescue of three New Zealand teenagers who were lost for 50 days in the Pacific in 2010 – and who amazingly survived. You can find their story at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/26/world/asia/26lost.html

You should also visit a YouTube video featuring the work of artist Peter Vogelaar. It can be found by clicking the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhMCwU058EQ

 

 

Newfoundland

Sep 2
Posted by Dan Filed in Uncategorized

My wife and I recently returned from a trip to Newfoundland. There is probably no place on earth where the lives and fortunes of the residents have been more closely associated with the oceans – from cod fishing on the Grand Banks, to naval service in war, to oil exploration southeast of the island. The music and literature of the province are rich in the lore and history of their love and respect of the sea – from the original discoveries of the Vikings and Captain Cook, to the history and mismanagement of the cod fishing grounds, to the economic promise and environmental dangers of the offshore oil discoveries.

Every bookstore is filled with the histories of ships and their crews, with volumes devoted to ships lost at sea, to additional volumes about remarkable rescues and stories of survival. The people of Newfoundland fully embrace this history of hardship and challenge. It defines them in the same way the Amazon defines Brazil.

This post is mainly a compilation of random photographs from around the province – from monuments to discovery, to shipwreck sites (S.S. Ethie), to a beautiful memorial outside Gander constructed to the memory of 256 individuals killed in the crash of Arrow Air Flight 1285 just outside Gander on December 12, 1985. Almost every fatality, with the exception of the aircraft crew, was a member of the 101st Airborne returning from peacekeeping duty in the Middle East. The memorial was constructed by private citizens in Gander, on the exact location of the crash. The decision of the citizens to focus of the peacekeeping efforts of the 101st Airborne results in an uplifting experience for all who take the time to visit the memorial.

 

Asiatic Fleet

Jun 30
Posted by Dan Filed in Wartime Naval Action

Few memorials exist to the sacrifices made by the U.S. Asiatic Fleet and their allies in the early months of 1942. Merged with British, Dutch, and Australian forces following Pearl Harbor; the ABDA fleet was outnumbered, outgunned, and outmanned. Totally unable to stop the Japanese push south in the Pacific, the fleet could only attempt to slow down the Japanese rush toward Australia. In that effort they were partially successful, but at a brutal cost. Almost 2,000 American lives were lost, thousands more wounded, and hundreds taken prisoner. Few of the prisoners would survive the war. British, Dutch and Australian losses were every bit as significant and tragic.

In a period of just five weeks, the combined fleet engaged the Japanese in five major battles. The first U.S. surface action of WWII was the Battle of Balikpapan on January 24, 1942. Four U.S. “four stacker” destroyers attacked a Japanese invasion fleet of over twenty ships. On February 4, 1942 the Battle of the Flores Sea was fought. The U.S.S. Marblehead (light cruiser) and the U.S.S Houston (heavy cruiser) were severely damaged. On February 19 and 20 the Battle of Badung Strait was fought. The Dutch destroyer Piet Hein was lost. On February 27 the Battle of Java Sea took place. The Dutch lost two cruisers and a destroyer and the British lost two destroyers. On February 28 came the Battle of Sunda Straight. The heavy cruiser U.S.S. Houston and the Australian light cruiser H.M.A.S. Perth fought bravely, but were overwhelmed by the superior Japanese numbers and were lost. The British cruiser Exeter was lost a few hours later. A brilliant history of this battle and the fate of the U.S.S. Houston crew can be found in James D. Hornfischer’s book Ship of Ghosts.

By the end of February 1942 all remaining allied ships were ordered to flee to Australia – the U.S. Navy Asiatic Fleet was no more.

Two other books offer brilliant accounts of the Asiatic Fleet. The best pure history is The Fleet the Gods Forgot by W.G. Winslow. The novel South to Java by Admiral William P. Mack is one of the best novels of the U.S. Navy ever written. Admiral Mack served with the Asiatic Fleet and reading his novel is almost like being there. The book has recently been re-released by The Naval Institute Press. I encourage everyone to read it.

 

 

Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial – Washington, D.C.

May 24

I recently received an email from Paul Parsons of Darnestown, Maryland suggesting two topics for this blog. Paul’s first suggestion was the bravery and sacrifice of the Asiatic Fleet in the early months of 1942. I briefly covered a small part of that history in a May 2011 post on the HMAS Sydney II and the U.S.S Houston. The Asiatic Fleet deserves much more, however. My next post will begin to rectify that oversight.

Paul’s other suggestion was a post about the Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial in Washington, D.C. Paul noted in his email that the memorial “..is beautiful, but in these times so comprehensive; the specifics of sacrifice are lost to most viewers. It’s location also diminishes its meaning or effect.” I agree with Paul’s observations, but with Memorial Day approaching it seems an appropriate time to focus on the memorial and some of the human sacrifice it represents. All photographs in this post are courtesy of Paul Parsons.

The Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial is located in Lady Bird Johnson Park on Columbia Island. It was designed in 1922 by Harvey Wiley Corbett and sculpted by Ernesto Begni del Piatta. It was dedicated on October 18, 1934 as a monument honoring the sailors and merchant seamen of the United States Navy and United States Merchant Marine who died at sea during WWI. Accurate statistics of American WWI deaths at sea are impossible to quantify, mainly due to the fact that the Merchant Marine had no historical office to compile their records. Best estimates are that somewhere between 2,000 and 7,200 American sailors and merchant seamen lost their lives in WWI. One observation can be made, however – none of the hundreds of people who guided and donated the funds required to construct this memorial in the 1930s envisioned the world a decade later. The number of lost souls this monument would honor would grow by a factor of ten by the end of 1945. The seven gulls riding the cresting waves witnessed sacrifice on the seven seas unknown to any previous generation.

The bloodbath of WWII would claim over 47,000 American lives in the war at sea. Thousands more would be wounded or captured. Over 250,000 Americans served in the Merchant Marine during WWII. About 1 in 25 who served were killed. It is estimated that perhaps as many as 1,700 American merchant ships were sunk during the war – victims of torpedoes, bombs, mines, kamikaze attacks, accidents, collisions, and weather at sea. The danger was constant, the sacrifices extraordinary. A statistic with particular meaning to me is that after the formal surrender of Japan in 1945 at least 87 merchant ships were severely damaged (42 sunk) in the ensuing five years, generally by striking mines. The war did not end for the merchant seaman in 1945 – danger and death most certainly continued. Please expand the photograph and read the inscription found on the memorial. I find these words to be most eloquent. On this Memorial Day I hope we all remember the past and present sacrifices of the Navy sailors, the Coast Guard sailors, and the merchant seamen who “have given life or still offer it in the performance of heroic deeds”.