From the official write up of the USS Strong DD-467 documents:
“The Vila Express generally was made up of two or more destroyers routed through the 'Slot' or through Vella Gulf and Blackett Strait to off-load supplies and troops as reinforcements for the Japanese forces in the Kula Gulf and other areas.”
In mid-March, Strong, Nicholas, Radford and Taylor began bombarding targets in the Kula Gulf. They made several runs up the Slot chasing the Vila Express and at times bombing the airstrip at Vila Plantation. The next month shows a heating up of hostilities with the Americans and Japanese in the area.
I give you this information to catch you up on what was going on with Strong and with Captain Wellings at this point in time. He is not allowed to discuss their movements or actions, but is still regaling his wife with more tame and friendly tales of hanging out with both American and English compatriots, including another meeting with Gelzer Sims of the USS Maury. Letter dated March 28, 1943:
“Yesterday and today have been very pleasant. First of all I was secured next to Gelzer Sims which of course called for another session – with Gelzer doing 90% of the talking. He has received a letter stating that he will shortly return to Charleston to put another boat in commission. I am all for it because it means one more old timer returning so that my turn will come just that much sooner.
Next I went over and paid an official call on an English ship. While none of my friends were aboard, never the less they knew several of my friends. Gosh it was like a dream to see them carry on. I say a dream because it seems centuries ago since I was with the British fleet. In addition what do you suppose I had for a liquor? Yes you guessed it. None other than Drambuie. Sweetheart with every sip I thought of you. I dragged out that drink for at least a half hour – and I might add that it was the last drink of the evening. Remember our last drink of Drambuie with Capt. Madden and Ken Hartman. Oh Sweetheart those were the happy days. We did know it and make the best of our time in Washington in our own quiet way. Never mind better days are coming and we will be even happier.
After dinner last night we adjourned to anteroom (bar) while they cleaned off the table. Then one of the officers sat down at the piano and we had a grand sing song. The English officers did all their special Russian and Scottish dances – but none of their free for all. I still say that we can learn a lot from the British on how to relax. I was back aboard at 2230.
This morning I was on one of the large ships for mass at 0845. You would be surprised at the large attendance. The boys get religion in wartime. When I returned Gelzer was waiting for me. This meant a cup of coffee and an hours “bull” session with once again “Admiral” doing most of the talking. I finally got down to work at 1115 and worked until 1530 with time out for lunch. At 1600 I attended a short conference and then called on Pop Shaw – A mustang who helped to bring Boot and I up in the Florida. He has his own ship (cargo) and is he proud of her – as he should be. After the call more paper work (fitness reports – the end of March) and then the final touches on a letter to the detail officer telling about my officer personnel – and also including the proposition of Fred relieving me sometime in May or the first part of June. I am not counting the chickens before they are hatched but I thought I had better get the ball rolling.
After a fine dinner we had Ginger Rogers in “The Major and the Minor”. It was a riot – one of the best pictures I have seen – Now here I am writing to my sweetheart and then to bed.
The newspapers started to arrive about two weeks ago and are they welcomed. I think I received about 60 in the first lot. I pass them on to Donald, Jackie Fulham and Curran. I save them, just reading about 3 per day. I have one with my breakfast. I like them even if the news is old. Bill Cunningham never gets old – at least his column doesn't. I was surprised to read all the headlines about Guadalcanal during the early part of February. Gosh the papers can make good stories.”
Though he values his career, his men and his ship, the captain is hoping for a change in duty, such as is happening for some of his contemporaries. Being closer to his family at this point in his career is paramount. He gets his wish, but not quite in the way he would have hoped, as we know.
Stay tuned for more of the actions leading up to the events of July 1943.