Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sonarman Bill Schell- the War Years

It has been really exciting finding some of this naval history because dad never really talked much about it. And dumb us, we just never asked. Do I ever wish I had though!

Aunt Martha told us one time that dad was not 18 when he enlisted. She was absolutely right! He was close, but not quite 18. He was actually 17 years, 11 months, and 14 days old when he enlisted on August 28, 1943 at Springfield, IL. I did a little investigation and found out that they would take 17-year olds with parental consent. I don’t know if he got that consent or just fudged on the numbers. I suspect he had consent, but then we are talking about Bill Schell--- maybe he was creative even back then!

He was assigned to the destroyer escort USS Eugene E Elmore and the earliest date I have for him connected with the ship is February 4, 1944 in Boston. On April 22, 1944 the USS Elmore joined the anti-submarine group sailing with aircraft carrier USS Block Island in the Atlantic. On May 29, 1944, as the fleet was heading back from Casablanca, the carrier and the USS Barr were hit by torpedoes from the German sub U-549. Another escort, the USS Ahrens was assisting the the stricken Block Island when they located the U-boat. As they were already engaged with the carrier, the Ahrens signaled the Elmore and the Elmore made the kill. This is all pretty neat stuff, but it got better as I dug into the log books of the Elmore. I knew that dad was aboard the ship, but then I began to wonder if he might have had anything to do with the sinking of the sub as he was a sonarman. I came across the page for June 1, 1944 and on that page was a special commendation for four sailors
who were on duty that day- one was dad! I know that this had to be pretty special because in looking through all of the log books, there are very few places where individual sailors are mentioned by name for anything.

In November, 1944 the Elmore was on its way to the Pacific theater. They arrived at Hollandia (now the city of Jayapura) on the north coast of New Guinea on December 11. There they joined the 7th Fleet and helped escort men and supplies to Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines. They arrived at the gulf on January 12, 1945 and helped provide anti-aircraft fire for the assaulting ships for two days. Then it was on to San Pedro Bay, Philippines to prepare for the assault on Subic Bay on January 29. After the fall of Subic Bay, it was on to escort men and supplies from the Philippines to Okinawa. On September 3, they arrived in Okinawa for occupation duty. This would have been after the main assault on the island had taken place.  After that the Elmore escorted transports going to Jinsen, Korea. And finally on October 15, 1945, the USS Elmore was on its way home to San Diego where she was decommissioned on May 31, 1946. That, of course, means he was in the area when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hirosima and Nagasaki. If he was in Okinawa at the time, that was about 450 miles from Nagasaki and about 625 miles from Hiroshima. 

I have traveled over the bridge near Martinez, CA that goes over Suisun Bay north of San Francisco many times on my way by train to visit the Wachsmans in Sonoma County. As you go over the bay, just to the north were all of these naval vessels that had been retired. There aren’t as many there as there once were, but you can still see a few on Google Earth. I often wondered if the old USS Eugene Elmore was sitting out there on that bay. What a history she had!                                                     
The ghost fleet in Suisun Bay, CA

1 comment:

  1. I get choked up just reading this when I think about the sacrifices the men in WWII made. Some of them were so young. Seventeen is right out of high school! And to think so many didn’t even make it home. I also think of my father-in-law who was a prisoner of war in Germany and the poor treatment he received in the prison camp. Thank God for those men and the men in service today for the freedoms we have!

    Why didn’t we ever think to ask Dad about his service? The perfect time would have been when he had the old German helmet and knife out . . . Just too young to even think about what was important. Hopefully getting this history down now will be important to our future generations.