Monday, March 31, 2008

The USS Vestal

Cassin Young did not plan to go swimming but he had been blown over the side of his ship, the USS Vestal (AR-4), by a Japanese bomb that exploded the forward magazine of the USS Arizona (BB-39). Unfortunately, his ship was moored next to the big battleship and was taking collateral damage.

The Vestal was a repair ship. Her purpose was to provide the men and machines required to keep the fleet in operation, and on December 7, 1941, she was servicing the USS Arizona. She started life as a collier in 1909 but was converted to a repair ship in 1913. Her first commander as a repair ship was the father of submariner Edward Beach. Cassin Young was her commander when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. It could not have been a very glamorous command, but in the peacetime Navy between wars, an officer was probably lucky to command anything. Still, I can’t imagine it was what Cmdr. Young, at 47 years old and and with 25 years in the Navy, had in mind near the end of his career. Pearl Harbor was going to change that.

Cmdr. Young re-boarded his ship and ordered her to get underway. He then conned his damaged vessel to shallow water where salvage and repair would be easier. It also got him away from the bomb magnet that was the USS Arizona.

His action that day was to earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor. But more importantly, it may have had a greater impact on the war than you would first expect for a lowly repair ship. The Vestal was repaired and went on to service in the Pacific providing rapid repair services to the fighting fleet.

Cmdr. Young was promoted to Captain and given command of the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA-38). He was killed during the Battle of Guadalcanal on 13 November 1942 while commanding this ship. This was also the same battle where the Sullivan Brothers were lost off the USS Juneau (CL-52).

It is tradition in the Navy to name destroyers after people. The Navy named the USS Cassin Young (DD-793) after him. This ship is currently moored at Boston Navy Yard as a museum ship.

Dad served on this ship during the late 30's. She showed up during a read about the sinking of the SS-51 in 1925. Vestal salvaged the sub, which at that time had to have been a major feat. With a little more research I uncovered her entire history. I often think about this little ship whenever I feel that things are getting a little too boring or routine. You never know what will happen tomorrow or how you can affect the outcome.

1 comment:

Mark Dolan said...

My dad also served on the Vestal from 1941-1943. Thanks for the fitting tribute to this hero whom Dad always remembered with deep respect.