It was the morning of September 15, and the second day of the investigation. The men of the Flier, who had sat the entire day before in the passage of the Euryale would finally get to have their say. Not only would they answer any questions put before them, but they had the opportunity at this time to say anything they wanted in the court, even if it would reflect badly on their Captain or someone or something else.
First up, was Ensign Jacobson, the youngest of the three surviving officers.
After stating his name, rank and current station (which he still listed as USS Flier) he was asked where he was the night of 13 August.
“At nine o’clock, I went on watch as JOD [Junior Officer of the Deck, see this post for further definition] on the After Cigarette Deck. At the same time, the other JOD was there so I was on the starboard side of the cigarette deck. That was my station until I was swimming.”
According to Jacobson’s memoirs which he started writing only a few weeks later, he replaced Ensign Beahr who went down into the Conning Tower. They were due to switch stations again in a few hours. The other officer to which Jacobson is referring is likely Ensign Meyer, who was on the Bridge.
They asked if he had worn his goggles and adjusted his eyes before reporting (important since, if he hadn’t, it might have opened the doors to a possibility that they were attacked by the enemy from astern, but Jacobson’s non-adjusted eyes didn’t see anything. It was also a test of following procedures.) He had. They asked about visibility, which was cloudy, but he could see all the way to land. (According to Jacobson’s memoirs, he could see Comiran, Balabac and Palawan Islands that night. If true, then despite the overcast he could see about 25 miles). They then asked him what his opinion was as to the cause of the loss of Flier. He will be the only person asked to name a potential cause.
“I believe it was a mine that hit the starboard side around the officer’s country somewhere below the surface.”
He was not cross-examined and declined to say anything else.
Next up was Wesley Bruce Miller.
He stated his name rank and as to his present station to which he was assigned, he answered, “I do not know what my present station is.” (Understandable, all things considered.)
Under questioning, he revealed that he was the forward port lookout that night on Flier, and he had also adjusted his eyes before coming on duty. When asked about the visibility conditions, he had this to say:
“Well, I could see land at eight thousand yards but it was very poor. The sky was overcast. No stars out. It was cloudy and dark.”
Questioning Lawyer: “During the time that you were on watch, did you see any ship or any suspicious object in the water?
Miller: “No sir, I saw nothing in the water. I could see a light on the beach. There as a lightouse there but nothing in the water.”
Cross Examined by the other side: “Was it a light or a lighthouse you saw?
Miller: I couldn’t say. It as very dim. it was where the lighthouse was and I imagine it was a lighthouse.”
Now, despite the fact that Jacobson said that he could see several miles and Miller said he could see only a few miles, we have to remember two things: One, that Jacobson and Miller are standing on opposite sides of their boat and two, that Miller is much higher up than Jacobson. In addition, Jacobson’s memoirs record that a storm was sweeping in when Flier went down. It’s possible that those gathering clouds made it more difficult to see on Miller’s side.
The light that Miller saw was likely one of two houses. The first option is the light at Espina Point on Balabac itself or more likely, the light on the shore of Comiran Island which Jacobson would visit over fifty years later.
On a strange note, according to Miller’s son, Bruce, Miller was not scheduled to be on lookout duty during the time Flier sank. A brand new hand on Flier, he was a non-qual, or non-qualified hand, and as such, subject to strenuous tests, qualification exams, and more than a little mild hazing. Apparently, he was scheduled to be off-duty during this particular shift, only to be told by an older hand that he was now on lookout duty, courtesy of the older hand.
And that’s how Miller ended up in the water. The name of the hand that accidentally doomed himself is not known. The things that might have been…