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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014
"Don't Shoot, I'm Republican"Posted Friday, February 4, 2011, at 11:40 AM
WW-ll Destroyers, are hard to find these days, so I include this one, much newer, in so many ways. Life at sea has dangers that a lubber never sees, like the nearest land be five mile deep, or 70 foot seas. Praise God, most all of us survive military life.
I do not expect anyone, non-navy, to laugh as hard as did I, but this is one of the best examples of a ship and crew being the perfect example of being """Accident Prone,""" although I know of some others that comes close.
Have a side-splitting laugh, as from what I can see, no one was injured, or killed, from any of the many funny (to me) Boo-Boo's (which had the potential of being earth-changing, disasters).
In Messiah, I praise Him that a ship's nightmare existence, like depicted, did not 'Change History,' as it could have, without HIM being involved with minimizing the damages.
PS: Of Special note, is the torpedo blowing up behind the Iowa. The detonator would almost for sure been a 'contact' device that required a strong collision with something, to set off the charge, primarily so it wouldn't go off when launched from the upper deck of the destroyer, and explode when fired into the water (at about fifty knots, considering the Destroyer would normally be doing Full, or Flank speed, plus the launch speed of the torpedo (fast and hard collision with the water)). I do marvel that the 'water knot' caused by the Iowa was solid enough to detonate the torpedo. (Just a thought)
OK, now enjoy:
Don't shoot, I'm Republican:
From November 1943, until her demise in June 1945, the American destroyer
'William Porter' was often hailed - whenever she entered port or joined
other Naval ships - with the greetings: 'Don't shoot, we're Republicans!'
For a half a century, the US Navy kept a lid on the details of the incident
that prompted this salutation. A Miami news reporter made the first public
disclosure in 1958 after he stumbled upon the truth while covering a reunion
of the destroyer's crew. The Pentagon reluctantly and tersely confirmed his
story, but only a smattering of newspapers took notice.
In 1943, the Willie D as the Porter was nicknamed, accidentally fired a
live torpedo at the battleship Iowa during a practice exercise.
As if this weren't bad enough, the Iowa was carrying President Franklin D.
Roosevelt at the time, along with Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and all
of the country's W.W.II military brass. They were headed for the Big Three
Conference in Tehran, where Roosevelt was to meet Stalin and Churchill. Had
the Porter's torpedo struck the Iowa at the aiming point, the last 60 years
of world history might have been quite different.
The USS William D Porter (DD-579) was one of hundreds of assembly line
destroyers built during the war. They mounted several heavy and light guns,
but their main armament consisted of 10 fast-running and accurate torpedoes
that carried 500-pound warheads.
This destroyer was placed in commission on July 1943 under the command of
Wilfred Walker, a man on the Navy's fast career track.
In the months before she was detailed to accompany the Iowa across the
Atlantic in November 1943, the Porter and her crew learned their trade,
experiencing the normal problems that always beset a new ship and a novice
crew. The mishaps grew more serious when she became an escort for the pride
of the fleet, the big new battleship Iowa.
The night before they left Norfolk, bound for North Africa, the Porter
accidentally damaged a nearby sister ship when she backed down along the
other ship's side and her anchor tore down her railings, life rafts, ship's
boat and various other formerly valuable pieces of equipment. The Willie D
merely had a scraped anchor, but her career of mayhem and mishaps had begun.
Just twenty four hours later, the four-ship convoy, consisting of Iowa
and her secret passengers, the Willie D, and two other destroyers, was under
strict instructions to maintain complete radio silence. As they were going
through a known U-boat feeding ground, speed and silence were the best
defense. Suddenly, a tremendous explosion rocked the convoy. All of the
ships commenced anti-submarine maneuvers.
This continued until the Porter sheepishly admitted that one of her depth
charges had fallen off her stern and exploded. The 'safety' had not been set
as instructed. Captain Walker was watching his fast track career become
Shortly thereafter, a freak wave inundated the ship, stripping away
everything that wasn't lashed down. A man was washed overboard and never
Next, the fire room lost power in one of its boilers.
The Captain, by this point, was making reports almost hourly to the Iowa
on the Willie D's difficulties. It would have been merciful if the force
commander had detached the hard luck ship and sent her back to Norfolk. But,
no, she sailed on.
The morning of 14 November 1943 dawned with a moderate sea and pleasant
weather. The Iowa and her escorts were just east of Bermuda, and the
president and his guests wanted to see how the big ship could defend herself
against an air attack. So, Iowalaunched a number of weather balloons to use
as anti-aircraft targets. It was exciting to see more than 100 guns shooting
at the balloons, and the President was proud of his Navy. Just as proud was
Admiral Ernest J King, the Chief of Naval Operations; large in size and by
demeanor, a true monarch of the sea.
Disagreeing with him meant the end of a naval career. Up to this time, no
one knew what firing a torpedo at him would mean.
Over on the Willie D, Captain Walker watched the fireworks display with
admiration and envy. Thinking about career redemption and breaking the hard
luck spell, the Captain sent his impatient crew to battle stations. They
began to shoot down the balloons theIowa had missed as they drifted into the
Down on the torpedo mounts, the crew watched, waiting to take some
practice shots of their own on the big battleship, which, even though 6,000
yards away, seemed to blot out the horizon. Lawton Dawson and Tony Fazio
were among those responsible for the torpedoes. Part of their job involved
ensuring that the primers were installed during actual combat and removed
during practice. Once a primer was installed, on a command to fire, it would
explode shooting the torpedo out of its tube.
Dawson, on this particular morning, unfortunately had forgotten to
remove the primer from torpedo tube #3. Up on the bridge, a new torpedo
officer, unaware of the danger, ordered a simulated firing.
"Fire 1, Fire 2," and finally, "Fire 3." There was no fire 4 as the sequence
was interrupted by an unmistakable whooooooshhhhing sound made by a
successfully launched and armed torpedo. Lt H. Steward Lewis, who witnessed
the entire event, later described the next few minutes as what hell would
look like if it ever broke loose.
Just after he saw the torpedo hit water on its way to the Iowa and some
of the most prominent figures in world history, Lewis innocently asked the
Captain, 'Did you give permission to fire a torpedo?' Captain Walker's reply
will not ring down through naval history... although words to the effect of
Farragut's immortal 'Damn the torpedoes' figured centrally within.
Initially there was some reluctance to admit what had happened, or even
to warn theIowa. As the awful reality sunk in, people began racing around,
shouting conflicting instructions and attempting to warn the flagship of
imminent danger. First, there was a flashing light warning about the torpedo
which unfortunately indicated it was headed in another direction.
Next, the Porter signaled that it was going reverse at full speed!
Finally, they decided to break the strictly enforced radio silence. The
radio operator on the destroyer transmitted "'Lion (code for the Iowa),
Lion, come right." The Iowa operator, more concerned about radio procedure,
requested that the offending station identify itself first. Finally, the
message was received and the Iowa began turning to avoid the speeding
Meanwhile, on the Iowa's bridge, word of the torpedo firing had reached
FDR, who asked that his wheelchair be moved to the railing so he could see
better what was coming his way. His loyal Secret Service guard immediately
drew his pistol as if he was going to shoot the torpedo. As the Iowa began
evasive maneuvers, all of her guns were trained on the William D Porter.
There was now some thought that the Porter was part of an assassination
Within moments of the warning, there was a tremendous explosion just
behind the battleship. The torpedo had been detonated by the wash kicked up
by the battleship's increased speed.
The crisis was over and so was Captain Walker's career. His final
utterance to the Iowa, in response to a question about the origin of the
torpedo, was a weak, "We did it."
Shortly thereafter, the brand new destroyer, her Captain and the entire
crew were placed under arrest and sent to Bermuda for trial. It was the
first time that a complete ship's company had been arrested in the history
of the US Navy.
The ship was surrounded by Marines when it docked in Bermuda, and held
there several days as the closed session inquiry attempted to determine what
had happened. Torpedoman Dawson eventually confessed to having inadvertently
left the primer in the torpedo tube, which caused the launching. Dawson had
thrown the used primer over the side to conceal his mistake.
The whole incident was chalked up to an unfortunate set of circumstances
and placed under a cloak of secrecy. Someone had to be punished. Captain
Walker and several other Porter officers and sailors eventually found
themselves in obscure shore assignments. Dawson was sentenced to 14 years
hard labor. President Roosevelt intervened; however, asking that no
punishment be meted out for what was clearly an accident.
The destroyer was banished to the upper Aleutians. It was probably
thought this was as safe a place as any for the ship and anyone who came
near her. She remained in the frozen north for almost a year, until late
1944, when she was re-assigned to the Western Pacific.
Before leaving the Aleutians, she accidentally left her calling card in
the form of a five-inch shell fired into the front yard of the American base
commandant, thus rearranging his flower garden.
In December, 1944, she joined the Philippine invasion forces and
acquitted herself quite well. She distinguished herself by shooting down a
number of attacking Japanese aircraft. Regrettably, after the war, it was
reported that she also shot down three American planes. This was a common
event on ships, as many gunners, fearful of kamikazes, had nervous trigger
In April, 1945, the destroyer was assigned to support the invasion of
Okinawa. By this time, the greeting "Don't Shoot, We're Republicans" was
commonplace and the crew of the Willie D had become used to the ribbing. But
the crew of her sister ship, the USS Luce, was not so polite in its
salutations after the Porter accidentally riddled her side and
superstructure with gunfire.
On 10 June, 1945, the Porter's hard luck finally ran out. She was sunk
by a plane which had (unintentionally) attacked underwater. A Japanese
bomber made almost entirely of wood and canvas slipped through the Navy's
Having little in the way of metal surfaces, the plane didn't register on
radar. A fully loaded kamikaze, it was headed for a ship near the Porter,
but just at the last moment veered away and crashed along side the unlucky
destroyer. There was a sigh of relief as the plane sunk out of sight, but
then it blew up underneath the Porter, opening her hull in the worst
Three hours later, after the last man was off board, the Captain jumped
to the safety of a rescue vessel and the ship that almost changed world
history slipped astern into 2,400 feet of water. Not a single soul was lost
in the sinking. After everything else that happened, it was almost as if the
ship decided to let her crew off at the end.
Kit Bonner, Naval Historian
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