We're about to turn the calendar over to another year, and I wanted to reflect a little on the events of the year.
January brought an uptick in the activity on my web site, and contact with Maxine Stancill Edwards, daughter of William James Stancill of Strong. This was the beginning of many new family contacts to add to the list.
In February, I was able to help Captain Wellings' daughter solve a mystery about a mission flag for DESRON 2 that was among her father's things. He ended up going back to the Pacific and served as a destroyer squadron commander for a time. I also added David Hermsen to the list, son of John J. Hermsen, S1c.
March, I found out that Anne, Captain Wellings' daughter was planning on making it to the reunion in Pensacola in September. Such a wonderful surprise!
April brought some very wonderful and surprising news that I just can't share as of yet. Lots of stuff pending and riding on good timing, so let's just say that if this much anticipated news comes to pass, we will have achieved something wonderful. Stay tuned......
In May, I again attended the Memorial Day services at the Veteran's Cemetery here in Lexington and ended up getting interviewed by the local news. Surprisingly, they ended up doing the entire piece on the interview, so it was very humbling. We also have a major Hollywood actor who lives right here in the Bluegrass, Steve Zahn. Zahn brings his children to these ceremonies each year, instilling in them a sense of honor, dignity and pride in country. It's refreshing to see how unaffected he is by his celebrity and just content to be one of the people in the crowd paying homage to our vets.
In June I solved another mystery thanks to obtaining some deck logs for two of the other destroyer escorts with Strong on July 5th. I had two reports of who picked up Captain Wellings, and wanted to solve this for any future research purposes. According to the logs, the Gwin picked up the captain and saw to his injuries. Coincidentally, this find would later lead to an amazing connection!
July brought an amazing number of hits to the web site. In one hour I had 545 hits on one day, and it indicated to me that things may be taking a turn. Little did I know how much of a turn. The month also brought me three new Strong family members – I gained Bill Gustavson, son of Clarence Gustavson, Pam Dunfield and Carol Loggia, neices of Fred Purdy, Captain Wellings' 2nd in command. I figure part of the increase in the site activity was due to these family members sharing the site, and for that I'm very pleased.
Back to things taking a turn in July, this was the first time I had contact with Stephen Harding! And things just keep getting better and better as time goes on. So thank you July for being quite a magical month.
In August, I began planning for the reunion and was asked by Steve to conduct interviews that might be included in the book. We discussed plans for the book he planned, and how he's waiting for approval from the publisher to make the announcement.
September brought the reunion in Pensacola. For the first time ever it was attended by Fitz Miller, son of Hugh Barr Miller, Jr., and by Captain Wellings' daughter Anne. They got to meet Andy Hoder, son of Stanley Hoder of Strong, and the one survivor who keeps coming back every year, James Merriman. Many touching and moving moments were had and wonderful conversation and story sharing ensued. It was amazing, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
October brought me two more family members; David Bailey, nephew of Norman Britt Carpenter and Christopher Gates, nephew of Ben Leonard. David shared a taped recording of his uncle Norman's interview from 1982, and gave me a great lead for tracking down some other information.
I also got the okay to reveal that Steve Harding had a contract to write a book in 2014 about Strong and the story of Hugh Barr Miller, Jr. Big news and happy tidings!
The end of October also brought the death of O. Milt Hackett, officer and a gentleman. Smooth sailing forever, Milt.
November came, and in following up on a lead as mentioned above, I located another Strong survivor, Dr. Henry Laughlin. He was the first medical officer on board, and left the ship in May of 1943 before it sunk. Dr. Laughlin had some recollections he shared with Steve Harding about his time on Strong, via his son John. It was said by Norman Carpenter that one of the doctors on board had carried a movie camera around and was constantly shooting, so we were able to rule out Dr. Laughlin. Next, I needed to try and find the second doctor to clear the mystery and see if there could be any film that existed of time on Strong. I had planned to try and track down the second doctor or his family, but strangely they found me first!
December brought me an early Christmas gift, the family of Dr. Albert Horne, second medical officer on Strong. I woke up one morning and there was an email from his son Russell, out of the blue. Russell and I have exchanged emails and it seems that yes, Dr. Horne did shoot film while on the ship. Sadly, none of it made it off the ship and is now part of the wreckage in the Kula Gulf. How amazing that would have been, to have found even a small piece of film. But I did learn that Dr. Horne was one of the last people to see my uncle Billy alive, and that means something.
Lastly in December, another wonderful email. I got a note from a man named Bill Brown who was an 18 year old radioman on Guadalcanal the night Strong went down. He recalls the message coming through, and says that memory still haunts him. I need to talk with this man and ask him a bit more about that night. Just another case of random events that have meaning. I hope to have many more of these messages come through in 2014.
So much more happened, but the highlights were finding more family members, the increased web site activity and the upcoming book. We have so much to look forward to and I can't wait to give you updates all through 2014. Thank you all so much for your continued support, for reading the blog and for all the information you have shared.
Have a wonderful 2014!!!