Posts Tagged ‘Panama Canal’

Postcard from the Dead

The Exhibit, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Dec 04 2010

Flier is still sitting in Coco Solo waiting for the pilot to take her through the canal, and the men are thoroughly enjoying Panama.  How much are they enjoying it?  Dunno, but we know they behaved well enough that there was no official record of it.  In fact, today’s deck log is dull.  I’m not going to bother post the actual log.  It’s that boring.  I included the transcript below.


Saturday, 4 December 1943

Pg. 48

Zone Description +5


Moored starboard side to another submarine on west side of Pier A NO.B (or NO. 13) COCA SOLA C.Z. 0545  Moored startboard side Pier A

J.W. Liddell, Lt. USNR


Moored as before.


While on liberty, the men of the Flier were free to send letters for the first time for days, but this included more intrigues.  All letters sent by military men had to be read and censored before they were permitted to be mailed home.

Flier’s radioman, Walter “Bud” Klock, had been in the Navy since 1938.  In the first few years , he wrote home frequently, informing his mother of the cities he was stationed in, the name of the submarines he was posted on, the places he visited.  But following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the beginning of letter censorship, Klock started telling his mom that he was in that place where it was never winter (Hawaii) or he was assigned again to the first place he was right after boot camp (San Diego) or that his first real boat had been lost at sea. (USS ARGONAUT).  At times, when he heard of a military man heading home on leave, he would write a letter in plain language and give it to the guy leaving for him to mail from a civilian mailbox once home (where it wouldn’t be pre-read).  Klock never said anything that would have been considered treasonous, but it was easier to talk plainly to his mom when he got the chance.

It became a game of cat and mouse with the censors who were, of course, looking for any information that might tell and enemy when and were a ship had been or might pass through.  Sailors had to resort to codes, or shared memories of the recipient to relay where they were and what they were doing.  Since the return address was always the boat, and the postmark was always Honolulu or San Diego for a Pacific sailor, that didn’t help either.  Things got quite creative.

It might be the fact that a postcard from another Flier man, Oliver Kisamore, clearly showed the Panama Canal that caused its hold up.

This card is intriguing and a little creepy.

The front is simple enough.  It’s a colorized engraving of the USS Pennsylvania as she crossed the Gatun Locks.

This might be Pennsylvania’s 1937 crossing, but there’s no date marked on the card.  The back of the card is a piece of stationary, flipped over and taped to the back of the card. Oliver Kisamore, a Motor Mac from Andover Ohio, wrote a quick note to his father:  “Dear Folks:  Just a few lines to let you know I am O.K. Hope you fellows are too.  Is it ever warm here.  I’m pulling out soon.  I’ll write you when I reach my next destination.”  Love  [rest of name cut off]

Seems rather innocuous, and Kisamore mailed it from the Cristobal Post Office in the Canal Zone, and likely never thought about it again.  The Cristobal Post Office postmarked it “December 4, 9 30 AM, 1943, CRISTOBAL CANAL ZONE” and passed it on to the censors to pass inspection before they released it to the civilian postal service.

This is actually the Christobal post office that Kisamore mailed this postcard from.

But for whatever reason,( maybe it fell on the floor, or the censor thought the picture and description revealed too much information, who knows?) the postcard was not passed into civilian postal service, and it wasn’t delivered in 1943.  Or 1944.

There are two more clues on this card:  In the upper left edge there is a faint blueish stamp: “Released by O.N.I”  .  O.N.I. in this case, is most likely “Office of Naval Intelligence”, the department responsible for the search and censure of all communications between military and civilians.  Below it, is the date of the release:  Sep 4-1945.

Two days after Japanese representatives signed the surrender of Japan on the deck of USS Missouri.

And Kisamore had been dead for over a year.

I can’t even imagine how his family felt, seeing this last missive from their son in his handwriting so long after they had been informed of his death aboard the Flier thousands of miles away somewhere in the Pacific.

But today, sixty-seven years ago, Oliver Kisamore mailed what would become his last letter home.

My thanks to the families of Oliver Kisamore and Walter “Bud” Klock for sharing their family’s letters to help flesh out the story of the Flier for a new generation.  We’re still looking for photos and other letters from  Flier men, if you are interested in donating them for the purposes of research, preservation and education here on this site, for the Flier exhibit at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum.  If your family would rather hang on to the original letters, I happily accept digital scans or photographs of the originals, or am more than willing to receive originals, photograph them and return them.

Panama Canal

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Dec 04 2010

So the Flier is at Panama Canal today.  I wondered what the Panama Canal looks like when I did the research for the book.  Everyone has heard of it, I’d seen documentaries about how it was built, but never really looked at it.  So I had fun, and I hope you enjoy the discoveries.

First the deck log for today (Whoot!  two days in a row!  I’m on a roll!)

Deck Log for today. Sorry it's so dark. Transcription to follow.

So here’s what that says: ————————-

Friday, 3 December 1943

Pg. 47

Zone Description +5


Moored starboard side to port side of another submarine at Berth A, Pier 3 Coco Sola, Canal Zone

J.E. Casey, Lieut. USN


Moored as before

J.W. Liddell, Lt. USNR


Most people know the Panama Canal is cut across the narrowest part of Panama, and hence, the narrowest point of North and South America.  What I didn’t know however, was that the canal does not cut straight through the land of Panama, it cuts from the Atlantic coast to a lake called Gatun, then from Gatun to the Pacific Ocean.  But Gatun is partially created through damming a number of the rivers that fed out of the lake into the oceans, so it is too, partially man-made.  It’s fascinating really.

Here’s a Map:

It took me a while to make this. It's a composite of a few different maps, each of which (of course) had something I needed to show, and lots of extra stuff I didn't. So here's the end result. Flier is in Coco Solo circled on top. When she goes through the Panama Canal, it will only take one day. It just won't be today. Tomorrow doesn't look good either.

Going through the Panama Canal is dangerous enough that any ship needs a trained pilot to go through.  There are a limit to how many of these pilots there are, so, regardless of the fact that Flier is at the Panama Canal, it will be another two days before she goes through. (Today the wait time is generally between 20-30 hours.

In the meantime, the men had some time to get out and about and on the town.

I just listened to Jim All’s account of Panama (It’s not long, but interesting–and yes, I am editing it.  I’m catalouging it on the other computer as I am typing on this one.) and hope to have that edited soon.  Having to learn Adobe Premier is quite the learning curve, but I’m working on it.  He remembered docking at Colon, not Coco Solo that the records state, but then again, the two cities were across a bay from one another.  Coco Solo was essentially the secured military district, and Colon was the actual town.  They were there for four days, and when not on duty, I can guess where most of the men ended up.  Jim did say he “had a great time”.  How great, he wouldn’t say beyond that!

Coco Solo is on the bottom left, the edges of Colon on the upper right. Taken in 1941, this is the military base Flier is tied to on this date in 1943.

Taken a few years earlier (when O-boats were all the rage) this is a close up of the submarine base in Coco Solo. No idea if this photo shows "Pier A, Berth 3" that Flier is tied to. Be really cool if it did though.

Well, I tried to post two days in a row.  Had I typed faster or Midnight not been so stealthy passing four minutes ago…oh well.