Thinkin’ about Norm

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As I worked on the Baked Beans books, I came to know a handful of old men who served on the Boston.  It all started because a young man emailed me as I was working on the first volume and said his grandfather, Pat Fedele, was a singer on the ship.  He was in good health, golfed every day, and he wanted to meet me.  Over time, I got to meet and interview six more men as I worked on the next two volumes.  Six of the seven were sailors; enlisted men, most of whom were less than twenty years old when they first set foot aboard the brand-new Boston.

The seventh man had a different background . . .  a different story.  He joined the ship late in the War, reporting aboard as the new Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment, replacing the reassigned Commander who had been aboard since the ship initially left Boston.  I met Norman C. Bayley and spent several hours with him.  He told me an incredible story.  An Admiral came aboard the ship and asked him to do an incredible job, which Norm agreed to do.  That morning, a brand-new bomb was being dropped on the city of Hiroshima and would be followed in a day or two (weather permitting) in another city.  His job was to go ashore, accompanied by a Japanese translator (a Navy commander, who was, in Norm’s words, “freshly fished out of the water because we sunk his destroyer”).  Together, they would make their way to Hiroshima, and Norm was to document everything they saw and determine by visual clues and dead-reckoning the location of “Ground Zero.”  As he recounted their visit to Hiroshima, he paused several times, remembering the horrors of what he saw  –  burnt corpses, horribly wounded people running and screaming, a once beautiful city incinerated to nothingness . . .  Norm struggled to express his own horror  –  still raw in his mind and soul 70 years later.

Incredibly, after gathering intel (including spending time with Fr. Siemes* in what was left of his monastery outside the city), he and his interpreter drove the truck they had commandeered to Nagasaki.  Norm described to me that they encountered pitch black conditions during which so much mud and debris rained down on their truck the wipers no longer worked.  It was, as Norm described, ‘Nagasaki raining down on them’  –  the black mushroom cloud full of fragments of the people, trees, buildings and animals that were moments earlier the city of Nagasaki.

I left the first meeting with Norm (and his grandson Patrick) shaken and amazed.  Norm had his notes, that were later shared with me.  I believed him, but the details of his story were confusing and didn’t make sense.  After all, the Boston was with the Task Force hundreds of miles north of Hiroshima, preparing to bombard industrial targets on the coast of Honshu.

At the time, I was still learning about the ship and the role she played in the War.  There was much I did not know.  Over time, and after more visits with Norm, I learned more about the ship and her movements.  I also learned more about Norm and his remarkable story of service to his country, starting with Guadalcanal and his subsequent terrible Malaria and ending with his service on the Boston  (with a side trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and his next forage onto enemy soil as he led his Boston Marines in the capture of a kamikaze training base at Katsuura in the first days after the Cessation of Hostilities.)  After additional research, Norm’s movements from the ship to the bombed cities and back all makes sense and lines up with his stories, despite the fact that after 70 years, some of the details were fuzzy.

His grandson emailed me yesterday.  Norm, 99 years young, passed away on Monday.  It was a singular honor to get to know this man who was asked to do a dangerous job for his country which put him at serious risk.  They had no idea at the time  whether the radiation from the bombs would kill him.  At the very least, they speculated, the exposure would cause sterilization and cancer.  Did I mention that Norm was in full uniform during his “forage” on enemy soil in a stolen Japanese Army truck while the war still raged?  (If caught in uniform, it was expected the Japanese would treat Norm as a US Officer, not a spy.)  His equipment consisted of a pistol, a notebook and a pencil.  While the exposure to radiation did not kill or sterilize him, the abject horrors of what he witnessed stayed with him until the end.

Steve

(* for more info about Fr. Siemes see abomb1.org/hiroshim/intervu1.html)

 

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Happy New Year

12-30-16

Found this great picture of the Boston, while rooting around in the files Bill brought back from the National Archives a while back.  You’re looking at the Boston, taken from sister cruiser USS Quincy (CA-71) in August 1945 near Tokyo Bay.

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Christmas ’45

12-23-16

Christmas 1945 aboard the Boston . . . .  by this time two major groups of crewmembers had mustered off the ship and headed back to the States.  The remaining men, on Christmas Day 1945, were only days away from hoisting anchor for the last time in Japanese waters and heading home themselves.  In many ways, this might have been the toughest Christmas aboard the ship  –  so close to leaving, yet still so far away . . .

I think you’ll enjoy this, shared with me by Bob Knight:  x45web

Here’s a couple of faces to match up with the booklet:

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L to R:  Norm Bayley (p. 4 “Prizes”) (taken 4/6/12), Pat deFedele (inside rear cover “Songs”) (taken 8/16/10) and Bob Knight, who shares this amazing Christmas Day Booklet with us (taken 12/4/11).  These three men served aboard CA-69 that I had the immense great fortune of meeting, interviewing for the Baked Beans books, and counting them among my friends.  Luckily, they are all still with us!  Merry Christmas, Gentlemen.

 

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“I thought for sure we were gone.”

12-17-16

. . . My whole life flashed before my eyes.  I was knocked out of my bunk.  I couldn’t get up because the ship is sideways.  So I’m holding on and I’m saying ‘Oh my God, we’re going . . .’ and it’s shaking and shaking.  Finally, slowly but surely . . . voom . . . she came back up.  I got off that deck and I flew up the ladder and I went topside and I didn’t go down below again until we were well out of that Typhoon.   (George Pitts)

I was alone on watch at night on Quad 7 standing on the back part of the after stack as protection from the 100 foot high waves and wind.  I was above the waterline at least 100 feet when I saw a destroyer off the port side in the distance. We did a maneuver and did a 40+° roll.  I fell face down and was holding onto the cat walk steel mesh and was actually able to see the water as we rolled.  I started to pray that we would be safe.  The ship rolled back to the starboard side and I called Fire Control and asked where the destroyer was.  I was told, ‘Joe, it sank.’      (Joseph Pulaski)

. . . I started sliding down the deck – this was on the starboard side.  The water was coming over the scuppers  –  in other words the deck was underwater.  I’m sliding down and I don’t know what the hell to do.  I had my hand up in the air like this.  Well, they had put up an inside lifeline before it got too rough, just for people to be able to walk down the deck.  As I’m sliding down, the lifeline hit my hand and I grabbed it.  If I missed, I’d gone right over the side. Once I grabbed the line and the ship rolled back to level, the guys formed a hand-line and the last guy grabbed my hand and I was able to get back up.  That was just an instant thing that happened, and you don’t think about it then, but you do think about it when you get older and you realize how lucky you were to have gotten out of that one.     (Bob Knight)

A few excerpts from Baked Beans Vol 2.  There is much info available online and in books about the so-called “Halsey’s Typhoon”  –  the infamous Typhoon Cobra that sliced through the fleet in its full force on Dec. 17, 1944, damaging most ships.  We lost three destroyers with all hands (800 souls perished in the storm).

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December 6 and 7, 1943

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December 6, 1943:  This morning the coastline of Oahu Island came into view, with Diamond Head standing out above the horizon.  On entering Pearl Harbor we passed through torpedo nets, that are opened and closed by tugs.  This is a beautiful island with high mountains in the background.  We passed through the channel into the large bay filled with ships at anchor or tied to piers.  Ford Island is on one side and the repair yard is on the other.  On our way in signs of the attack could still be seen.  The Battleship Oklahoma was afloat but at a 45° angle and still pumping water out of her.  The water and shoreline was covered with a lot of oil.  We tied up alongside the concrete piers, which is called Battleship Row, alongside Ford Island.

The Arizona is alongside the pier, on the inboard side, looking over the side we can make out the outline of the hull and Turret 1 and 4 still have the 14″ guns on board.  A lot of oil is seeping out of the Arizona.

December 7, 1943:  Today is the second anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attack and this is our second day in Pearl.  We are tied-up alongside the sunken Arizona.  Tomorrow we will have our first liberty.  We will be going out every week for three or four days for practice firing.    (Frank Studenski)

When we first arrived, it was hard to believe two years had passed since the December 7th attack.  The Arizona was ghastly looking and some of the other ships were still half sunk.   (George Pitts)

When we first got to Pearl Harbor, when we were first going through the channel, I remember that you could see oil bubbling up, and it looked like smoke here and there.  We tied up next to the Arizona, and you could look down and see it lying there.            (Bob Knight)

 

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