Posts Tagged ‘Wesley Miller’

In the words of the Flier crew…

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Sep 27 2010

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.

Taken during Jacobson's 1998 trip to the Philippines, this is the light on Comiran Island, which Miller might have seen that night in 1944. I was unable to find any photographs of the Espina Point Light on Balabac Island.

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…

The Map

Lost Subs, The Exhibit | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 14 2010

I am looking at the most extraordinary nautical chart today.

Over the weekend, I visited with the Jacobson family, and one of the items they allowed me to borrow was a chart of the Balabac Straits.  This, on its own,  would be interesting enough, but thanks to both Al Jacobson’s son, and Jim Liddell’s son, this chart is extraordinary.

From what I have been able to find out, after the Flier survivors reached the States, they went home to their families then on to their new assignments.  With the exception of Cmdr. Crowley and Lt. Liddell who were stationed together on USS Irex and remained close friends after the military, the survivors lost contact with one another.

But in 1994, with the help of Dr. Elaine Foster who located all eight Flier Survivors, they decided to meet together at Cmdr. Crowley’s home in Baltimore.  Only Crowley, Liddell, Jacobson, Miller and Russo were able to make it.

It was in a video recording of that meeting that I first saw this chart.  Lt. Liddell’s son came with his father, and recorded as the men pinned this chart up on the wall in Cmdr. Crowley’s living room and talked about where they had gone down and where they had swum.

In 1944, Cmdr. Crowley had to guess where the Flier went down, and he guessed “Comiran Island bearing 190 degrees T at 6700 yards”.  That bearing put the location of the sinking at 7 degrees, 58 minutes, 45 seconds North Latitude and 117 degrees, 13 minutes, 10 seconds East Longitude.  I marked that position below.

Now, the men also debated whether they swam in a straight line to the islands ans even which islands they landed on.  During WWII, Crowley decided that they must have landed on Mantangule, which you can see above, but Al, after studying the maps, was more inclined to believe that they landed on Byan, the tiny speck of green to the left of Mantangule.

They debated this for a while, and decided that the sinking position was correct, though they did land on Byan, not Mantangule, and probably either swam around the Roughton Reefs in the current, or swam between them.

It was a fascinating bit of video to watch.

In 1998, Al decided he wanted to go back to that area in the Philippines and see the places he didn’t mean to pass through in 1944. While there, he took this same chart along with him, and traced the route that he took in visiting his old haunts.  I can follow his 1998 boat coming down the eastern side of Palawan, passing within photo distance of Cape Baliluyan (where he met up with a guerilla outpost) snaking through the reefs until he made it to Comiran Island where they spotted the light that the lookouts on Flier saw moments before she went down, to the spot where she went down, back to Byan Island and Bugsuk Island, then back up the eastern coast of Palawan.  I also have the photos from this trip, which is helping me get a sense of what happened.  I’ll see if I can get permission to post them.

The most interesting thing to me is when Al got to the accepted coordinates of Flier’s sinking, he decided the surroundings didn’t match his memory from that night.  See, Al wasn’t watching the stern of Flier just before the mine hit, he was admiring the surrounding scenery.  It was, to his dying day, one of the most beautiful this he had ever seen.

So he asked the captain of his charter boat to keep moving until the scenery matched.  When it did, he marked it on the chart, but also recorded the GPS coordinates of it.  It was south(ish) of the accepted WWII estimate by more than a mile.

Al hoped someday that he could come back with professional gear and divers to look, but his health did not permit it.  When the Dive Detectives came calling after Al passed on, this chart was one of the things that they were given in the hope that the wreck could be found.

Al was always known for his thoroughness in his research and planning.  I wonder if he knew just how closely he had nailed the location.  From what I’ve been told,  when the Dive Detectives ship dropped the weighted sandbags down on the 1998 coordinates, they landed on the Flier herself.

Provided the Navy does not object to the display of this chart (they’re a little touchy about revealing the locations of their wrecks for security reasons) this map will hopefully make it into the exhibit.

Flier Underway

And now for something completely different..., Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 30 2010

Sixty-six years ago today, Flier pulled away from Mare Island, passed under the Golden Gate bridge and left America behind. The people who waved her good-bye didn’t realize that for the vast majority of the people aboard, and the sub itself, that good-bye was permanent.

It would take nine days to get to Pearl Harbor, with Crowley testing his boat and crew the entire way, because like any submarine coming straight from the continental US, Flier was scheduled for two weeks of further training and provisioning before being sent off for their first real patrol once again.

*       *        *

As this story starts again, I’m finding that it’s sometimes difficult to write about.  As I’m getting to know the families of those who still patrol aboard the Flier, these men are becoming more real, and I can’t help but feel a touch depressed, since I know that this story, for one family already, and soon for 76 more, will have a tragic ending.

In talking with Al, I know that sometimes he felt he had to live a certain life to honor those who didn’t make it.  He gave to his family, his community, his employees.  I sometimes wonder if the other survivors felt the same way.  I only know what happened to four of the men:  Captain Crowley had a long and successful career in the Navy, Lt. Liddell founded a company that today employs hundreds, Baumgart became a police and fireman.  Where Miller, Howell, Tremaine and Russo ended up, I don’t know.

I hope, but re-living this journey 66 years later, I can honor these men’s memories and sacrifices.

*      *        *

In other news, in a few days, I’ll be heading out for a business trip to meet the family of one of the survivors to see photos, letters, and other items from Flier’s history.  I’m really excited to go, but due to safety and privacy reasons, I won’t say when where and who until it’s all over (and I won’t say who unless given permission!)  But as the story of the Flier unfolds, I hope to have some new images and things to share.

Finally, in regards to my post a week ago about USS Virginia returning to port and how the submarine squadrons are arranged, I received a note from Lt. Evans of Submarine Group Two who told me that  USS New Mexico will be assigned to Squadron 8 along with the Boise, the Newport News, and the Oklahoma City.