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There are dozens of photos taken by the assembled escorts of the stricken aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) as she underwent her death throes on the morning of 8 May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea, but this one– probably the great explosion from the detonation of torpedo warheads stowed in the starboard side of the hangar at 1727 hrs– always caught my attention.
In the above photo, the smaller carrier, USS Yorktown (CV-5), can be seen on the horizon in the left-center, while the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412) is at the extreme left.
To further punctuate the viciousness of the first year of the Pacific War, both Yorktown and Hammann, a Sims-class destroyer, would be lost in the same torpedo salvo at Midway less than a month after this image was taken. Likewise, Hammann‘s class-leader, Sims (DD-409) was sunk at the Coral Sea the day before Lexington was lost.
Before 1942 was over, Yorktown‘s sistership, Hornet (CV-7) would also rest on the bottom of the Pacific as would two other Sims-class tin cans, Walke (DD-416) and O’Brien (DD-415). In 1943, the tide turned, but there would still be years of hard effort to go.
Speaking of the Coral Sea, check out this great NHHC graphic that was just released.
First, the flooding is at least being controlled and the ship is slowly dewatering after several hull patches have been applied. Her list is slowly correcting.
Next, a lot of irreplaceable relics– that did not get harmed– have been removed and safely stored ashore.
The latest video update is below.
While today at dawn is the 107th anniversary of the landings of the combined Australian-New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli in a bid to knock the Ottoman Turks out of the Great War, it is enshrined as a national day of remembrance in that two Oceanic countries, saluting fallen veterans of each “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”
In short, a combined Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
With that, strike up the Waltzing Matilda and lift an outsized can of Fosters for any Kiwi or Ozzie you’ve run into in the past.
The call to action raised what, most thought, was more than enough money to fix the problem. Initially, $100,000 was asked for, with over a million brought in along with a $500,000 grant called “Save America’s Treasures” from the National Parks Service.
Well, the repairs weren’t complete and now the old girl is in rough shape.
Like, really rough shape:
The statement from the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park (which is asking for donations):
In November 2021, with the help and support of our community in Buffalo and throughout the country, we officially reached our goal of raising $1 million to help Save the Sullivans and repair the hull. For over a year, we have been working with BIDCO Marine Group to assess the hull and make a plan to preserve and repair USS The Sullivans, incorporating a hull survey they completed in 2018. Divers were in the water last summer and fall to begin work using a Navy-approved two-part epoxy, but once the water temperature dropped below 54 degrees they had to pause for the winter. The plan is still for that work to resume once the temperature increases.
The breach that occurred yesterday appears to be a new issue and we are working diligently to understand the cause and address it as quickly as possible. We will provide additional updates as we learn more from the initial assessments. We appreciate everyone’s support and the offers to help. This is truly the City of Good Neighbors and this historic ship continues to guide us to stick together.
The good news is that there are only about five feet of lake water under her hull this time of year, so she can’t totally submerge, just settle into the mud.
Just as long as she doesn’t turn turtle. Then it’s likely scrap time.
It seems the best solution for these old girls, long term, is to bring them wholly ashore such as with the submarine USS Drum in Mobile Bay…
…or set them in a dry-dock hybrid cradle such as with USS Kidd (also, like The Sullivans, a Fletcher) in Baton Rouge.
In Lake Charles, Louisiana, the Gearing-class destroyer USS Orleck (DD-886) has been hanging out since 2010. Awarded four battlestars in Korea, Orleck was transferred to Turkey in 1982, from whence she was saved in 2000 and became a floating exhibit in Orange, Texas for a decade before moving to Lake Chuck.
I visited her a few years back and thought, sadly, throughout the tour that her days were numbered. She was in bad shape and, with few visitors, money to turn that around was slim. Then came Hurricane Laura in 2020 which tore the tin can from her moorings and sent her tossed up the Calcasieu River.
With that, I figured it was the beginning of the end. After a 20-year run as a museum ship, her last chapter was being written.
However, in a surprise to many, she was saved and now, after a much-needed drydocking and repair session at the Gulf Copper Central Yard in Port Arthur, she is being towed around the Florida Keys to Jacksonville and is expected to arrive there around the first of April, then open as a museum downtown this summer.
She is not out of harm’s way just yet.
Her refit and move cost $2.5 million, which included $1 million from the state of Florida and the rest in the form of donations and loans, the latter of which can be bad if Orleck doesn’t pull in the crowds.
You lose some…
As with Orleck, we’ve talked several times in the past few years about the submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343), a Balao-class 311-foot “fleet boat” of the type that crushed the Japanese merchant fleet during WWII. Commissioned on 28 June 1945– just narrowly too late for the war– her Naval service was nonetheless rich, being converted to a GUPPY II snorkel boat in 1947 and later GUPPY III in 1962– one of only a handful to get the latter upgrade.
Decommissioned in 1973, the boat was still in pretty good shape when she was donated at age 36 to become a museum ship at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina where she has been since 1981, near the WWII carrier USS Yorktown and the Sumner-class tin can USS Laffey (DD-724).
However, it is not 1981 anymore and the old girl, which has been rusting away in brackish water at the mouth of the Cooper River with what I think everyone will admit is poor maintenance, is reportedly past the point of no return. Needing to use their limited funds to help preserve Yorktown and Laffey for a little longer
Patriots Point Executive Director, Dr. Rorie Cartier, explained that while the situation is not ideal, limited funds would likely be better spent elsewhere:
“Unfortunately, we cannot financially sustain the maintenance of three historic vessels. The USS Yorktown and USS Laffey also need repair, and we are fighting a never-ending battle against the corrosion that comes from being submerged in saltwater.”
In addition to the damage salt water does to the historic vessels, Cartier said that pollution from the eroding vessel poses a threat to the water in which it sits.
“There are increased environmental risks the longer the submarine remains at Patriots Point,” Cartier said. “Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are present throughout much of the vessel and exceed levels allowed by the EPA. There are also more than 500 lead batteries, weighing nearly one-and-a-half tons each, that need to be removed.”
As far back as 2017— a half-decade ago at this point– the Palm Beach County Commissioners voted to use $1 million in funds to jump-start a project to sink Clamagore about a mile off the coast of Florida’s Juno Beach. At the time, Patriot’s Point said $6 million would be needed to refurb the old girl to keep her.
Now, even the thoughts of reefing the sub have come and gone.
Clagamore is set to be scrapped at a cost of $2 million while Patriots Point staff will remove artifacts — such as sonar equipment, torpedo hatches, and the periscope — for display on Yorktown and at other institutions.
The beautiful De Zeven Provinciën-class light cruiser Hr.Ms. De Ruyter (C 801), who went on to serve the Peruvian Navy as BAP Almirante Grau (CLM-81) until she was retired in 2017, was to be saved as a floating museum, perhaps at the Naval Museum in Callao but lack of funding and interest has derailed that.
Of course, that figure is to scrap the ship but concerns about asbestos, chemicals dating back to the 1930s, and lead paint probably make that a non-starter as it would likely cost more to safely dispose of all the bad stuff than her value in recycled materials. This leaves the prospect that she may just be scuttled at sea or, possibly, sent to Alang where such things don’t matter as much.
However, there is a slight possibility the ship could go back “home” with some Dutch groups reportedly making a move to acquire and preserve the old girl.
Of course, see “concerns about asbestos, chemicals dating back to the 1930s, and lead paint ” as well as “lack of funding and interest” to see how that will likely turn out.
Either way, it is a shame.
Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, March 2, 2022: Burnt Java
Here we see the Koninklijke Marine naval docks at Soerabaja (Surabaya), on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. The photo was taken 80 years ago today, 2 March 1942, from the coal jetty towards the West. With the Japanese fast approaching, the Dutch started the destruction of the yard at 11:30 am and you can make out the 1,500-ton dry dock sunk along with the patrol boats P19 and P20. The new 2,500-ton drydock is listing to the right with a cloud of smoke from the Perak oil tanks in the background.
While the scuttling of the Vichy French fleet at Toulon in 1942, and the self-destruction of the Royal Danish Navy at its docks in Copenhagen in 1943 to keep them out of German hands are well-remembered and often spoken about in maritime lore, the Dutch wrecking crew on Java at Soerabaja and Tjilatjap gets little more than a footnote.
Dominated by the Dutch for some 125 years before the Japanese effort to uproot them, Java was one of the centerpieces of the Indonesian archipelago in 1942 and a principal base for the colonial forces. While Borneo, Sumatra, and other islands may have had more resources– including natural rubber and pumping 20 million barrels a year of oil– Java was the strategic lynchpin. Defended by the (nominally) 85,000-man Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) along with their own air force, the ML-KNIL, it was the Dutch Navy and its shore-based long-range patrol craft of the MLD naval air service that was the colony’s first line of defense.
However, with the ML-KNIL/MLD’s aircraft swatted from the sky, and the Dutch navy’s largest units– the cruisers Hr.Ms. De Ruyter and Java— sunk at the Battle of the Java Sea on the night of 28 February along with following on Battle of Sunda Strait on 1 March that saw two Allied cruisers sent to the bottom, Java was wide open and future war criminal Gen. Hitoshi Imamura’s 16th Army started landing on the island at three points directly after.
While Dutch Lt. Gen. Hein Ter Poorten’s force of three KNIL divisions and a mixed brigade worth of British/Australian/American reinforcements would seem on paper to be an even match for Imamura’s troops, the Japanese had the momentum from the start and by 8 March, the Dutch radio station at Ciumbuluit signed off with “Wij sluiten nu. Vaarwel tot betere tijden. Leve de Koningin!” (We are closing now. Farewell till better times. Long live the Queen!)
This effectively ended the short-lived ABDACOM command, severed the Malay-Timor barrier protecting Australia, and was the near-height of the Japanese success in the South Pacific. In March 1942, the Japanese would mount no less than 17 air raids on Western and Northern Australia.
The noose around Java was tight and several vessels that tried to break out failed.
The Japanese cruisers Takao and Atago found the old destroyer USS Pillsbury (DD-227) near nightfall on 2 March and sent her to the bottom with all hands.
At roughly the same time, the Japanese heavy cruiser Maya, accompanied by destroyers Arashi and Nowaki, found the British destroyer HMS Stronghold (H50) trying to escape from Tjilatjap to Australia and sank her, recovering 50 survivors.
The Australian Grimsby-class sloop HMAS Yarra (U77) was escorting a convoy of three British ships (the depot ship HMS Anking, the British tanker Francol, and the motor minesweeper HMS MMS 51) and survivors from the Dutch ship Parigi, from the fighting in Java to Fremantle when they were attacked on 4 March by three Japanese heavy cruisers– Atago, Takao and Maya, each armed with ten 8-inch guns– and two destroyers. The 1,080-ton sloop gave her last full measure but was unable to stop the massacre of the convoy and the Japanese were especially brutal, with reports of close-range shelling by the two Japanese destroyers, was witnessed by 34 survivors on two rafts. The blockade-running Dutch freighter Tawali, rescued 57 officers and men from Anking that night, while the escaping Dutch steamer Tjimanjoek found 14 further survivors of the convoy on 7 March, and two days later 13 of the sloop’s ratings were picked up by the Dutch submarine K XI (a vessel that would go on to serve with the British in the Indian Ocean through 1945).
To be sure, the last large Dutch surface ship in the Pacific, the cruiser Hr.Ms. Tromp had escaped destruction and would serve alongside the Allies for the rest of the war, while her sister Jacob van Heemskerck, arriving too late to be sunk in the Java Sea, would duplicate her efforts.
Others, under an order of the Dutch navy commander on Java, RADM (acting) Pieter Koenraad, were ordered to attempt to escape after receiving the code KPX. (Koenraad and his staff embarked on the submarine Hr.Ms. K-XII, which made it to Australia safely, and from there he left for England, returning to Java in 1945 with the Free Dutch forces)
The 500-ton net-tender/minesweeper Hr.Ms. Abraham Crijnssen, capable of just 15 knots and laughably armed, famously decided to try for Australia camouflaged as a small island, leaving Java on 6 March with a volunteer crew and made it to safety on 20 March.
The scuttling itself
This left all the vessels too broken, under-armed, or small to break through the Japanese blockade and make it 1,200 miles across dangerous waters to Australia. Not wanting them to fall into the hands of the Japanese, the Dutch and their Allies took the wrecking ball to over 120 vessels on Java at Soerabaja, Tanjon Priok, at Tjilatjap on 2 March.
The largest of these under Dutch naval control, Hr.Ms. Koning der Nederlanden, was a 70-year-old 5,300-ton ramtorenschip ironclad that had been disarmed and turned into a barracks ship in 1920. She hadn’t left the harbor in generations under her own steam, so this was a no-brainer.
Other large ships sent to the bottom were a group of Allied merchantmen trapped in the harbors to include three 7,000-9,000-ton Dutch Java-China-Japan Lijn line cargo ships– Tjikandi, Tjikarang, and Toendjoek— scuttled as blockships. In all, 39 merchantmen were torched, mostly small Dutch coasters and empty tankers, but including three British Malay vessels (SS Giang Seng, Sisunthon Nawa, and Taiyuan) that had escaped Singapore, the 1,600-ton Canadian freighter Shinyu, and the small Norwegian tramps, Proteus and Tunni.
The two most potent Dutch combat vessels left in Java, the Admiralen-class destroyers (torpedobootjagers) Hr.Ms. Banckert and Witte de With, did not survive the day. These 1,650-ton Yarrow-designed boats were built in the late 1920s and, capable of 36 knots, carried four 4.7-inch guns and a half-dozen torpedo tubes. Both had been severely mauled in surface actions with the Japanese and were unable to evacuate to Australia. The Dutch built eight of these destroyers and lost all eight in combat with the Germans and Japanese within 22 months of Holland entering the war.
Speaking of destroyers, the old four-piper Clemson-class destroyer USS Stewart (DD-224) had been severely damaged at Badung Strait, only making it to Soerabaja with her engine room still operating while submerged. Written off, her crew was evacuated to Australia on 22 February and the ship, stricken from the Navy List, was left to the Dutch to scuttle.
The Dutch, who had a huge submarine fleet in the region, had three small “K” (for Koloniën or Colonial) subs scuttled at Soerabaja, the 583-ton circa 1923 KVII-class Hr.Ms. K X, the 828-ton circa 1926 K XI-class Hr.Ms. K XIII, and the 1,045-ton circa 1934 K XIV-class Hr.Ms. K VIII.
The Hr.Ms. Rigel, a 1,600-ton unarmed local government-owned (gouvernementsvaartuig) yacht used by the Dutch governor-general that had been converted to a minelayer, was too fine to let the Japanese have but too slow to make run the blockade. She ended her career on 2 March as a blockship at Tanjong Priok.
When referencing mine craft, the ten Djember (DEFG)-class auxiliary mijnenvegers (minesweepers), small 100-foot vessels of just 175-tons constructed specifically for work in the islands, were all either scuttled or left wrecked on the builders’ ways in Java. Similarly, the five even smaller 74-ton Ardjoeno-class auxiliary minesweepers, the twin 150-ton Alor and Aroe, and the twin 145-ton Ceram and Cheribon, were in the same lot, with the Dutch sinking these as well.
One great unrealized hope that could have spoiled the Japanese landings was the 17 TM-4 class of motor torpedo boats. Begun at Navy Yard Soerabaja in 1940, they were small and quick vessels, just 63-feet long with a 5-foot draft, they could make 36 knots.
As the islands were cut off from Europe due to German occupation of their homeland, much use of surplus parts was made. This included Lorraine Dietrich gasoline engines from condemned 1920s Dornier Wal and Fokker T-4 aircraft as well as Great War-vintage 17.7-inch torpedo tubes from scrapped Roofdier-class destroyers and Z-class torpedo boats.
Just 12 TM-4s were completed by March 1942, and they were all scuttled, while the other half-dozen were left unfinished onshore.
In the same vein as the TM-4s, the Dutch had planned to build at least 16 130-ton B-1-class subchasers at three different yards around the colony. These 150-foot motor launches, armed with a 3-inch popgun, some AAA pieces, and 20 depth charges, would have gone a long way towards providing the Dutch some decent coastal ASW. However, none were complete in March 1942 and the work done by the time of the fall of Java was disrupted as much as possible.
As a stopgap before the B-1s were complete, the Dutch had ordered eight small wooden-hulled mosquito boats from Higgins in New Orleans.
The Dutch Higgins boats substituted 16 depth charges for the more familiar torpedo tubes used on these vessels’ follow-on brothers as the Navy’s PT boats. They also had a 20mm gun and four .50 cals, in twin mounts with plexiglass hoods. Classed as OJR (Onderzeebootjager= Submarine hunter), the first six arrived as deck cargo in December 1941 and February 1942 but saw little service.
Two had been lost in gasoline explosions and the Dutch scuttled the remaining four in Java (OJR-1, OJR-4, OJR-5, and OJR-6) on 2 March.
Incidentally, the two undelivered Higgins boats (H-7 and H-8) were delivered after the fall of the Dutch East Indies to the Dutch West Indies where they patrolled around Curacao.
The local Dutch government had several small patrouillevaartuigen gunboats at their disposal outside of naval control, dubbed literally the Gouvernementsmarine or Government’s Navy. Dubbed opiumjager (opium hunters), they engaged in counter-smuggling and interdiction efforts around the archipelago as well as tending aids to navigation, coastal survey, and search and rescue work. Once the war began, they were up-armed and taken under navy control and switched from being gouvernementsvaartuig vessels. Small patrol boats scuttled in Java on 2 March 1942 included the Hr.Ms. Albatros (807 tons), Aldebaran (892 tons), Biaro (700 tons), Eridanus (996 tons), Farmalhout (1,000 tons), Fomalhaut (1,000 tons), Gemma (845 tons), Pollux (1,012 tons), and Valk (850 tons).
In all, of the more than 120 ships destroyed by the Dutch on Java, almost 90 were small vessels under 1,000-tons such as the Djembers, the TM torpedo boats, and the assorted coastal patrol, subchasers, and minelayers. Many of their crews were marched into Japanese POW camps to spend the next four years in hell, while a small trickle was able to escape on their own either into the interior– keep in mind that about half of the rank and file in the Dutch Far East fleet were local Indonesians– or manage somehow to make for Allied-controlled areas.
The Japanese were able, as the war dragged, to raise and salvage many of the scuttled vessels and return them to service in the IJN. Likewise, several of the TMs and B-1s that were left unfinished were eventually launched under the Rising Sun flag.
Of the larger ships, the destroyer Hr.Ms. Banckert was raised by the escort-poor Japanese in 1944, partially repaired, and put in service as the patrol craft PB-106. On 23 October 1945, VADM Shibata Yaichiro, CINC, Second Southern Expeditionary Fleet, surrendered Java to Free Dutch Forces, and Banckert/PB-106 was returned to the Dutch, who promptly sank her in gunnery exercises.
The stricken Asiatic Fleet destroyer, ex-USS Stewart, whose hull had been broken and her crew had left her scuttling to the Dutch, was also salvaged by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and entered service as Patrol Boat No. 102 in 1943, rearmed with a variety of Dutch and Japanese weapons and her funnels retrunked into a more Japanese fashion. Found at Kure after the war, she was taken over by a U.S. Navy prize crew in October 1945 and steamed under her own power (making 20 knots no less!) across the Pacific to Oakland.
Her old hull number repainted and a Japanese meatball placed on her superstructure, she was sunk by the Navy in deep water in May 1946.
When the Dutch returned to Java in 1945, besides resuming control of the few vessels still around that had been refloated by the Japanese– craft which were soon discarded– they embarked on a campaign to salvage many of the rest, with hulks shipped off to Australia where they were broken into the 1950s.
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I grew up reading books like WWIII: August 1985, Red Storm Rising, and Team Yankee as a kid. After all, I was a military brat growing up in a coastal town that was mass-producing destroyers, cruisers, and LHAs as fast as they could hit the water because the Russians– led by Ivan Drago— Were Coming.
Now we have this conflict in Ukraine, the closest thing to a modern near-peer war since 1982, and while it is many things, it is not entertaining.
I don’t have the space, intestinal fortitude, and energy to detail what is already being termed the Russo-Ukrainian War, encompassing an estimated 180,000 Russian ground troops against a mobilized 240,000 Ukrainian army and paramilitary forces.
But I do have some interesting notes that I have noticed while watching a war unfold on my phone in real-time.
While “official” losses in terms of human life are slim compared to World War daily figures– the Ukrainians claim to have inflicted 800 casualties while suffering under 450 of their own, the images and video coming from the region would seem to belay that as a gross underestimation on both accounts.
According to the Pentagon:
The assault started in darkness this morning, Ukrainian time, with a Russian missile barrage of around 100 intermediate-range, short-range, and cruise missiles, the official said. Missiles came from land, sea and air platforms.
The Russians used roughly 75 fixed-wing, heavy and medium bombers as a part of their assault. The targets were primarily military bases and air defense nodes.
The British MOD said:
In the early hours of the morning, President Putin launched a major unprovoked assault on Ukraine, firing missiles on cities and military targets. The invasion came despite weeks of Russian claims that they had no intention of invading.
Then later in a day-end update, remarked that “It is unlikely that Russia has achieved its planned Day 1 military objectives. Ukrainian forces have presented fierce resistance across all axis of Russia’s advance.”
The Ukrainians claim to have knocked out 30 much more modern Russian tanks, 130 assorted military vehicles, and 14 aircraft as well as capturing a handful of Russkis, while the Russians claim to have totally neutralized the Ukraine air defense net, made in-roads into the country from at least five points, and have shot down nine aircraft that managed to get off the ground.
In another, it looks like the Western NLAWs and Javelins rushed to the country by NATO have taken their toll on Russia’s most advanced combat vehicles, defeating stand-off cages and other countermeasures, leaving lots of broken armor and blunted convoys in their wake. Their recently-withdrawn British, Canadian, and American (Florida National Guard’s Task Force Gator) training cadres are no doubt nodding into their whisky as they watch the footage.
While the Russian VDV and Spets guys are fanatical, a lot of these Russian troops, especially those driving trucks and recovery vehicles without adequate top cover, are likely conscripts. Cannon fodder. I almost feel bad for them.
Regardless, depictions of Ukraine’s two newest patrons, of our ladies of the top attack, St. Javelin and St. NLAW, are circulating widely.
Further, while the Russians have steamrolled Ukraine’s airfields and at least one (some reports say damaged) SU-27 made an emergency diversion to Romania, there does seem to be a Fulcrum driver that is– and this could be wild propaganda– been holding his own around Kyiv, downing a reported six Russians. The feat would make him the first attributed European air ace since Korea.
They call him the “Ghost of Kyiv,” and there is a ton of buzz and memes floating around about him even if he doesn’t exist.
I can vouch that there is a stirring video purporting to be a low-flying Ukrainian MiG-29 dogfighting with a Russian Sukhoi Su-35 (but looks to me just like two Fulcrums working high-low).
The David and Goliath struggle has been exemplified by the reported lop-sided stand on Snake Island by 13 Ukrainian border guards against the Russian cruiser Moskova, with the words “Russkiy voyennyy korabl’, idi na khuy” now ringing around the globe.
Finally, in a return to low-tech, with both sides fielding much the same kit– after all, Ukrain inherited most of its equipment from the old Soviet Union– the Russians are using an “Invasion Stripe” recognition stripe in the form of a painted-on “Z” despite the fact there is no such letter in the Cyrillic alphabet, something that had been noticed by reporters in Belarus as far back as the 19th.
Either way, if you’re the praying sort, the Ukrainian people could use some.
Here, 80 years ago today, we see the Northampton-class heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA-30), as viewed through the sight of an Australian 4-inch gun on the beach at Darwin, Australia, on 18 February 1942. Houston– which had been RADM Thomas C. Hart’s Asiatic Fleet’s flagship until he was scapegoated and relieved of operational responsibilities the week before– was then leaving Darwin for the Dutch East Indies and a rendevous with destiny.
As such, this is one of the last photos taken of the doomed ship, as she would be sent to the bottom at the Sunda Strait just 11 days later.
Houston would earn the Presidential Unit Citation and two battle stars for her World War II service, in the hardest kind of way.