Kolombangara Island laying mines. The Japanese Vila Express had been using the strait to resupply their troops in the Kula Gulf area. These mine laying efforts were somewhat successful, bringing down a few Japanese ships, and crippling others. The allies, alerted by the Australian coast watchers, would send out planes the next day to finish off any crippled ships. The next mine laying operation would take place near Kolombongara, the coast of which the allies predicted the enemy would use as an alternate route for transport. On the evening of May 13th and 14th, Strong was again involved in laying mines in the waters off shore of Kolombangara. Some of the escort ships themselves had difficulties, such as a turret explosion aboard the Nashville, St. Louis lost an anchor and it punched a hole in the bow and Strong lost steering capacity for a while. Japanese mine sweepers cleared this area before it could do much damage to their ships, however. Seems there was a lot of playing cat and mouse among the participants in the Pacific version of this war and we're just lucky in the end that we were the cat.
During this time, Gus kept up the easy and carefree banter in his letters home. He could not tell his wife of their activities or the danger involved. His brother Al was a frequent companion, and I can imagine for anyone far from home having family nearby was a comfort that most didn't enjoy. Gus was a truly fortunate man in that respect. Just a few excerpts from his letters around this time:
May 4th, 1943
“There has been no mail the past few days but I cannot complain because my darling has been very sweet about writing and after all it is too much to expect daily mail in the Pacific. We have a lot of fun kidding about mail. Donald & Grimes plus Curran are the leaders now that Doctor Laughlin has left. However I come a very close second. I therefore think I am very fortunate because two of them have still to catch their girls and the other is a newlywed – although a prospective father.
Al has been aboard each night for dinner and the movies. It surely is good to see him again. He has a big job starting another
unit up here but he loves it. The rascal is getting fat on it. Incidentally your little boy is on a diet to reduce at least 5-7 lbs.
My cold is much better. I really believe I had a touch of the flu. I am still taking things easy and will continue to do so for another week or so. Did I tell you the doctor prescribed whiskey – Sooo – I had a pint of scotch in my medicine cabinet and I had a “tot”
before lunch and dinner. It seemed so funny to be drinking aboard ship – Also quite a few times I forgot to take my “tot” - can you imagine it.”
“All is well here in the Pacific. Perhaps things are too quiet. We have (had) considerable discussions aboard ship trying to
figure out the grand strategy. I honestly believe that the European and African theater will continue to be the primary front. Todays' reports indicate that the final drive for Bizerte and Tunis has started. We will have to push the axis out of Africa before we can start anywhere else. Apparently we have enough equipment and men to do the job. My guess is that this operation should be completed by the end of May at the latest. After Africa?? We will have to do something in Europe this summer. Just where is anyone's guess. Italy would fold up quickly – if the Germans were not too strong in Italy. Turkey seems to
be more friendly recently. If they could be persuaded to come in on our side, a drive up through the Balkans would seem an ideal move. Oh well – Lets leave these questions to the experts.”
“Today is Sunday and we are in port. This morning I went to mass on board the Relief and afterwards had coffee with
Pete Moncy – who is captain of the Relief. He is the same old Pete – Remember the officer whose ship was across from the Strong when we were commissioned.
Tomorrow morning I am going outside for a little target practice and Pete is coming with us to see if all the news he hears about
these new destroyers is true. I hope my boys have a good day because I want Pete & Al, if he can come to see a darn good shooting team in action even if it is target practice.
I am sorry that I have not written so often the last few days. We were a little busy – no not any shooting – Although we were
looking for trouble which did not develop. I promise to make up for lost time during the next few days.”
“Well my pet, all is well again in the Strong – We received our first mail for ten days. I received four letters from the
sweetest of all girls – No 21-24. No. 24 was dated 5 May. Gosh what a difference to me and my officers and the arrival of mail has on morale. Mail is the only thing we have to look forward to – except an occasional trip to the club for an hour or two when we are in part and not attending conferences, fueling, getting supplies etc. It seems I spend half my time in port attending
conferences or visiting.
First of all about this so called victory. I don't know (?) where you got the information but please don't spread it around
in the first place. I could deny any you may have heard, but I believe you will be happy to know that we were lucky and did a good job in very short order without any trouble to the ship or crew. However we are far from heroes and
still have a lot to learn. Incidentally I don't know how much you know but please keep it quiet. This (is) supposed to be confidential and will not be published. We all had a thrill and it did my ship a lot of good. The Strong is a good ship but I am not boasting. Old lady luck plays an important part. I still play the old percentage game and feel that it is on our side with great
odds (in our favor) that all will continue to be well.
Now in regards to my letters about swimming etc. they are the truth and I am not trying to deceive you. We do roam around in
areas that are potentially dangerous but we also have periods in port when all is quiet and serene with visits to other ships, the club and movies under a tropical sky and moon to entertain us at night. We actually have seen very little shooting. Of course the mental strain is always present underway and once in awhile we do get tired from lack of sleep. However I still adhere to
taking things easy. Fred continues to run my ship with me setting the policy and the “executive” decisions.”
And later in the day, another letter with rememberances of the doctor who had just left the ship for other duties, and
more mention of brother Al:
“I am happy that Dr. Laughlin remembered to call you on the phone, even though I gave him the money to make the call. He surely was glad to get away and I suppose you can't blame him. His relief came aboard about an hour before we were due to sail on a special operation. I told the Dr. (Laughlin) that I would keep him aboard until after the trip in order to break
the new Dr. (Horne) in with destroyer work. The Dr. took it like a good sport although I know he was anxious to get away. This was the trip in which we had a little excitement. When we returned to port the Dr. said he would not have missed the trip for the world. I did give him a letter of commendation because I felt as though he did an excellent job and should be rewarded (I don't mean on the trip because no one was even scratched).
Al is rapidly getting settled here at our base. He has some wonderful stories about getting his outfit organized in this area.
He comes over all the time. He stayed so late (2400) the other night that I put him up on board, gave him a good breakfast and sent him on his way. It surely is fun having him around.”
They're in port for a while, catching some rest and hanging out at the beach. With the coming actions, these are the times of
rest and restlessness on the part of the men. There was little danger in port, but too much down time to suit them. They were either in the thick of it, or had too much time on their hands.