Archive for July, 2012

I am passing along the following story, courtesy of Bill Welllman.  Probably the reason Bill passed it along is because he was Air Force.  No matter what branch of the military you were in, we are all aware of or involved in circumstances such as described below.  I happened to be Navy but I can assure you that some things happened that were not exactly what was intended.  I recall one time; but wait, that is another story.  Enjoy this one because even the brave make mistakes and if you served, thank you for your service.   Thanks, Bill for the great story.

The Life and Times of the “Willie D”

A “Funny NOW but not so Funny THEN Story”

The following “Revelation,” a bit of Naval History that you won’t find in the History books – rather funny today, but hardly humorous then. It was sent to me by one of our esteemed Association members, now deceased, NCCM Corky Johnson, who stated:

“The following story is making the rounds. I can’t vouch for it’s authenticity, but it is a good story! It was sent to me by a retired Navy Flag Officer. It is the “Other History” of the USS PORTER (DD-579), and you will never find this mentioned in the history books.” ~ CJ

“From November 1943, until her demise in June 1945, the American destroyer USS WILLIAM D PORTER was often hailed…..whenever she entered port or joined other Naval ships…..with the greeting…..”Don’t shoot, we’re Republicans!”

“For half a century, the U.S. 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. Fifty years ago, the “Willie D,” as the PORTER was nicknamed, accidentally fired a live torpedo at the battleship USS 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 WWII 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 50-years of world history might have been quite different.

“The USS WILLIAM D PORTER (DD-579) was one of hundreds of assembly line destroyers build 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 in 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 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 side-tracked. Shortly thereafter, a freak wave inundated the ship, stripping away everything that wasn’t lashed down, and a man was washed overboard and never found. Next, the fireroom lost power in one of it’s 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, IOWA launched 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, USN, 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 envey. 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 the IOWA had missed as they drifted into the Porter’s vicinity.

“Down on the torpedo mounts, the crew watched, waiting to take some practice shots of their own at the big battleship, which even though 6,000 yards away, seemed to blot out the horizen. 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 “whoooooooshhhhing” 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 the 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 torpedos'” figured centrally within.

“Initially there was some reluctance to admit what had happened or even to warn the IOWA. 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 torpedo. Meanwhile, on IOWAs 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 plot. 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 U.S. 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 5-inch shell fired into the front yard of the American Base Commander, thus re-arranging 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 Kamikazies, had nervous trigger fingers.

“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, PORTER’s luck finally ran out. She was sunk by a plane which had (unintentionally) attacked underwater. A Japanese bomber almost made entirely of wood and canvas slipped through the Navy’s defense. 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 alongside 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 possible location.

“Three hours later, after the last man was off, the Captain jumped to the safety of a rescue vessel and the ship that almost changed world history slipped astern into 2400 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.”


Note from the Yeoman: I recently received an Email from Mark Osborne who left comments in our Guest Book that the story is covered in the Book, “On Seas of Glory”, a history of the U.S. Navy by a former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. So I was wrong that it would not be found in any History Book. – Jake
Page updated December 22, 2006 

Message from the Yeoman: I want to convey to anyone who served in the USS WILLIAM D PORTER (DD-579) That I mean you no disrespect personally, but that the Record speaks for itself. The ship seemed fated to be a jinxed ship, and that isn’t totally the crews fault, though in those times of great despiration, many unseasoned sailors were sent into battle so quickly that they didn’t receive adequate training. It is possible that Murphy’s Law was in affect back then, and that the certain fateful things were set in motion that just continued with the ship’s history. It is most unfortunately true, but I am also certain that you all moved on to other Commands where your service was noted as good and ‘well done’ – and so I say to you all, “fair winds and following seas”.


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July 7, 2012

Dear Fort Gay Alumnus;

Enclosed is information regarding our annual banquet, reunion, and golf tournament.  We hope that you will find this year’s events equal to or exceeding any past reunions.

This year’s banquet will be held at the Fort Gay Middle Schoolin the commons area. This area is air-conditioned and is quite comfortable.  Registration and reception will begin at 5pm on Friday, August 31.  Beverages will be served during the reception and dinner will commence at approximately 6-6:15 pm.  Please note, due to the caterer needing time and space to set up, you will not be able to enter prior to 5 pm. 

 The cost of this year’s banquet will remain at $25.00 per person, the same as in previous years.  While we have been able to accommodate all reservation requests in the past, we would recommend that reservations be made as early as possible because of the limited seating area.

This will probably be the final year for a banquet in the old FGHS building.  There is a new building going up on the old football field which will accommodate both Fort Gay middle  school and Fort Gay elementary students.  Expectations are that it will be ready for occupancy in June of 2013.

The theme for this years banquet and reunion is “so long, it’s been good to know ya”.  This will be your final opportunity to walk the halls of the old high school building and  view the photos of your many friends and classmates and remember the old times.  It will undoubtedly be a time of nostalgia and reminiscing, so don’t be left out.  Make your reservations early and invite all of your friends.


We will honor the class of 1962 this year.  They will have reserved seating as a group if they wish and will be introduced individually.  We would ask that if you are a member of this class and that your class has made plans, that you note that on your reservation request so that we may provide adequate seating.

The deadline for receiving reservations this year will be Friday, August 24.  This is necessary so that the caterer may do her meal planning.  Your check will be your reservation and should be made payable to “The Fort Gay High School Alumni Association”.  Checks should be mailed to our treasurer, Paul Salmons, 9811 South Highway #1, Webbville, KY 41180.  Paul may be contacted at 606 652 4048 or email at psalmons@hotmail.com. 

 The twelfth annual FGHS Memorial Scholarship Golf Tournament will be played this year at the Eagle Ridge Golf Course located at Yatesville Lake State Park, just outside Louisa,KY.  The tournament will be held on Friday, August 31, 2012.  The tournament will again be a best ball tournament with a shotgun start at  approximately 8:30 am. Registration will commence at 7:30 am.  A sack lunch plus snacks will be provided at the golf course and water bottles placed on each cart.  We will also have a continental breakfast for those players arriving early.  There will be an increased number of prizes and awards.  The cost will be $50.00 per player or $200.00 per team which includes cart, greens fees, and lunch.  The course should be in excellent condition.

The golf tournament is our major source of income for supporting and growing the FGHS Memorial Scholarship.  One of the major aspects of the tournament is the sponsorship of a golf hole by individuals, groups, or businesses.  This has been very well supported in past tournaments.  We have high  hopes for a like response this year.  We are making a plea that if you have sponsored a golf hole in the past,  that you would consider doing so again.  If you have not sponsored a golf  hole in the past,  then we would welcome you on board.   Hole sponsorships are $100.00 each. 

 For additional information regarding the golf tournament, to sign up to play,  and or sponsor a golf hole, please contact  golf chairman, Joe Damron, 211 Hardwick Ridge Road, Fort Gay, WV 25514.  Phone 304 648 7265 or email at mursayds@gmail.com.  All checks for hole sponsorships and golf  reservations should also be mailed to Joe at the above address.  Scholarship:  We are pleased to announce that four Tolsia High School graduates who are enrolled at Marshall University will be receiving $12,000.00 in support this year from the FGHS Memorial Scholarship fund.  We hope to have one or more of these students as our guest at the banquet.

 An additional honor has now been bestowed upon the FGHS Memorial Scholarship.  Hence forth, all students receiving the scholarship are now designated “FORT GAY SCHOLARS” by Marshall University.  The FGHS Memorial Scholarship continues to thrive and provide support for four students each year from Tolsia High School.  The freshman entering Marshall this fall is a young lady from Fort Gay.  She, plus four students currently enrolled at Marshall,  will be sharing in excess of $12,000.00 in financial support from the fund.  In the event that you do not plan to attend the reunion but wish to financially support the scholarship, you may do so by sending contributions to our treasurer Paul Salmons,  at his address mentioned earlier in the letter.  Checks should be made payable to FGHS Alumni Association and noted for FGHS Memorial Scholarship.  

 Blog Site: You may have noticed that underneath the letterhead that there was an internet address.  We have been operating an alumni blog site for a couple of years titled “The Viking Chronicles”.   It is kind of a fun site with a variety of  subjects,  information, and pictures placed on it several times a month.  Many of our members find it somewhat entertaining. You will see continuing information during the month of July and August concerning the upcoming reunion.  To find it simply go to https://fghsaa.wordpress.com.  You may leave comments and it is operated at no cost to the Alumni Association.  If you would like news, items of interest, or pictures posted, simply send them to me at my home address.  I will return any pictures sent, so, as soon as you get this letter get on your computer and give it a look.  We would appreciate any comments you might have.  Please visit it frequently.   Also there is a Face Book page designated for the use of FGHS Alumni.  Stop by and visit, check out the pictures and visit old friends.

 The FGHS Alumni Association will have a tent on the lawn with FREE “Bromley Ridge” water.  We will also be selling things so stop by, rest in the shade, and buy things.  We do hope to see all of you there.

Anyone having questions or needing additional information, may contact me at my home address, phone, or by email.

Richard A. Plymale, Chairman, FGHS Alumni Association

1468 Pine Meadow Rd.

Lexington,KY 40504

Phone 859 255 5836  Cell phone 859 361 3318    Email:  richard.plymale@insightbb.com

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The Fort Gay High School Alumni Association board of directors  is pleased to announce the inauguration of an ongoing award honoring alumni who have not only distinguished themselves in their chosen profession,  but also embody those ideals that were impressed upon them by the faculty of FGHS during their years of attendance.  The inaugural award will be made on Friday evening, August 31, 2012 during our annual banquet.  The recipient will be awarded a suitable plaque,  and a donation of $500.00 will be made to the Fort Gay High School Memorial Scholarship in his or her honor.

We are pleased to announce that the first “FGHS Distinguished Alumni Award” Will be made to Carl E. Lowe II, Director, VA Regional Office, Waco, Texas.  We hope that many of you that know Carl will wish to attend the banquet and see him receive this honor.  Please join me in congratulating Carl on this honor.  Below is a short bio of Carl.

Carl E. Lowe II was appointed as the Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office (V ARO) in Waco, Texas, on March 12,2000. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Lowe served as the Director of the VARO in Huntington, West Virginia.

As Director of the Waco VARO, Mr. Lowe is responsible for administering the delivery of VA benefits, including compensation, pension, and vocational rehabilitation. The Waco VARO has a staff of 821 employees. The Waco VARO serves a potential clientage of over 929,000 Veterans, as well as Service members, and dependents, in a service area that extends from El Paso to Texarkana, and from Austin to Amarillo. Mr. Lowe oversees a V A benefits delivery program, under which nearly $2.5 billion is paid out annually in V A compensation and pension benefits.

Mr. Lowe is a recipient of the 2004 Presidential Meritorious Executive Award. He is a graduate of the Leadership VA Class of 1991. He is a two-time recipient of Vice President Gore’s Hammer Award: for assisting in improved processing of “imminent death” cases by V A and the Department of Defense; and for developing a process for early identification of incarcerated Veterans in West Virginia’s state penal system. Mr. Lowe received the VBA Service Award in 1991, and the Under Secretary’s Outstanding Service Award in 1998. Mr. Lowe was selected as the Air Force Association V A Employee of the Year in 2007, based on the Waco VARO’s vigorous, outstanding outreach program. Also in 2007, Mr. Lowe completed the fust VA Executive Fellows Program. Based on the Waco VARO’s exceptionally effective outreach initiative to the Tigua Indian Tribe in El Paso, he received a Native American Warrior Certificate of Recognition, from the National Congress of American Indians. Mr. Lowe chaired a high-level workgroup in VA Central Office in 2008, which designed the new Benefits Assistance Service – a major initiative including Social Media activities.

Mr. Lowe began his VA career in 1974, with the Huntington VARO, where he was assigned initially as a Veterans Representative on Campus at West Virginia State College. He served in progressively responsible positions at the Huntington VARO, including positions in the Education Liaison Unit; Chief of Field Section; Chief of Veterans Assistance Section; and Rating Specialist. In 1987, Mr. Lowe was selected as the Assistant Veterans Services Officer at the Waco VARO, and was later promoted to Veterans Services Officer.

In 1990, Mr. Lowe transferred to the Central Area Office in Livonia, Michigan, where he served as the Senior Management Officer. In 1992, he was selected as the Deputy Director of the Central Area Office, which is located at VA Central Office in Washington, D.C. During his tour in VA Central Office, Mr. Lowe served as Acting Director, Veterans Assistance Service; Director, Veterans Services Program Staff; and Deputy Director, Compensation and Pension Service. Also, he served in a vital role as coordinator and V A benefits claims expert on Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown’s Customer Service Outreach Team. Mr. Lowe has served as Chairman of the McLennan/Falls Counties Combined Federal Campaign, and as the Chairman of the Local Federal Coordinating Committee.

Born in Louisa, Kentucky, on November 16, 1946, Mr. Lowe grew up in Fort Gay, West Virginia. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam Era; and has earned both bachelor’s (1971) and master’s (1973) degrees from Marshall University. Mr. Lowe and his wife, Carolyn, have five children: C.E. III, Brad, Brian, J.J., and Kara; and 10 grandchildren. Their son Brian served five tours of duty in Iraq, with the U.S. Air Force. He and his wife, Jamie, are currently stationed at Travis AFB.

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