Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Armistice Day

World War I ended 90 years ago, today. Romania, in essentially its present form, resulted from the arrogance of the victors, who carved up Eastern Europe rather arbitrarily thereafter, more with the intention of preventing a rebirth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire than in order to make sense of the resulting nations. Hence was born present-day Romania, a fascinating, ever-transitional, multicultural country, only now beginning to have a proud sense of national unity, as an up-and-coming member of the European Union.

On Veteran's Day

Out of respect for the veterans in my family, I want to remember here the service of my father and my father-in-law, both now departed, as well as that of two of my brothers, happily both still kicking.

Dugald (Mac) McDougall served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 until 1946. He was a communications officer, then a radar officer on a sub-chaser, escorting convoys on the coastal run from Boston to Halifax, Nova Scotia. where they would join up with larger escorts (DDs and DEs) for the harrowing trip across to England. Then Mac was radar repair officer at the Charlestown Naval Station. Mac's life-long love was amateur radio, and if anyone could fix a radio (or radar) set, it was Mac. Then, he became an instructor at the Harvard-MIT Radar School, a top-secret Navy school run at those great Cambridge, Massachusetts, universities. Along this path, in 1943, I was born at Chelsea Naval Hospital. Mac's final posting during the war was to the Navy's Patent Office in Washington, D.C., a move which launched his postwar career in patent and trademark law.

My father-in-law was Basil Kimball of Westborough, Massachusetts. Raised on a farm, he went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute, graduating an electrical engineer before joining the Army as an officer candidate, shortly before Pearl Harbor. The Army asked him his background, and learning of his familiarity with farm animals and hobby of hiking in the White Mountains, they assigned him to the 10th Mountain Division. Basil went to train in North Carolina, where he was put in charge of a string of mules. Eventually, he got himself transferred into the Army Engineers, and later landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 6th, 1944, at about 2:00 PM. He only told me once about his war experiences, as I sat in rapt attention. His unit was using listening devices to locate German artillery.# There was a very big gun firing each night in France, but always from a different location. They surmised that it was a railroad gun, but had not been able to locate its daylight hiding place. Basil found a tunnel on his map that seemed central to the firing locations, and notified the Air Corps. The next day, they bombed both ends of the tunnel. The gun was never again heard. That, he told me modestly, was his contribution to the war effort. Basil stayed in Europe until VE Day, as he put it, "All the way across Europe with Ike, but Ike was 20 miles behind us."

Dugald George "Skipper" McDougall is my older brother, born in 1942. Skip led the way for two more of us to Amherst College, graduating with honors in Dramatic Arts in 1964. He then volunteered for Officer's Candidate School in the Navy. He followed our father's path into Communications School, and was assigned to CAG-1, the U.S.S. Boston, a heavy cruiser built during WWII, and later converted to carry Nike guided missles in place of the three-gun turret formerly at the stern. She was a magnificent ship. During his time aboard her, the Boston served as flagship of the "Broken Arrow" operation off Palomares, Spain. A B-52 had gone down, and had lost a nuclear bomb on the seabed. The mission was to find it and recover it. The success of that mission led to the movie "Men of Honor," starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., about the Navy Divers who achieved the recovery. U.S.S. Boston's next posting was to the South China Sea, where her six 8-inch guns were put use in the Vietnam conflict. Hence, George wears the Vietnam campaign ribbon.

USS Boston Enroute to Vietnam in 1969*

Walter Allan "Wally" McDougall, three years younger than I, also was an Amherst man, also an honors grad, but in the field of History in the class of 1968. Upon graduation, Wally enlisted in the field artillery, and served throughout 1969 in Vietnam in the thick of the battles of that year following the Tet Offensive. Wally recorded his experiences, historian that he is, in long letters home to Mac, that Mac faithfully copied and distributed to all of Wally's brothers. All I can say about Wally's story is that we owe his life to six Special Forces men and the 200 Montagnard soldiers whom they led. Their fire-support base in the Central Highlands was attacked one night in an all-out effort by the NVA, and defended successfully by that small force of Cambodian freedom fighters.

As one who never served in the United States' military, I offer all readers who did my humble gratitude. Our freedom is your precious gift to us all.
# See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_ranging
*Photo from http://www.navsource.org/archives/04/069/04069.htm


SKM said...

Very nice. Thanks for including my Dad.

SKM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

McD Warbabe II:
While wading through an immense e-mail backlog, I ran across a link to your Veterans' Day post and have finally examined the
pertinent entry.
Your grasp of my biographical details is truly astonishing. I am deeply touched. Incredibly, I detected only one petty factual glitch.
You wrote: "...U.S.S. Boston, a heavy cruiser built during WWII, and later converted to carry Nike guided missles in place of the three-gun turret formerly at the stern." Well, for the record, our missiles were of the Terrier BW-1 variety -- whatever that means.
By 1967, our once-renowned "World's First Guided Missile Cruiser" had become the world's OLDEST guided missile cruiser and our
1955-era anti-aircraft missiles didn't have a chance against state-of-the-art enemy jets. Indeed, while we were operating in the Vietnam theater, our Commanding Officer used to snort that he was tempted to aim the missiles directly aft and then fire them at hostile shore targets as we steamed away from land; that's the only way he figured we might get some benefit from them. Then in 1968, after I'd returned to civilian life, the Navy finally yanked off the missile
launchers (replacing them with a helicopter pad, I believe) and USS BOSTON (Navy format omits periods when abbreviating
"United States Ship" and capitalizes all of the letters in vessels' names) made two more Vietnam deployments without them.
--McD Warbabe I

Duncan McDougall said...

Dear Warbabe I (1942),

Thank you for your precise and helpful tuning of the details, and for your amplifications.

Warbabe II (1943)