A lot of my searching for information is on eBay, because I occasionally find items and books that relate to STRONG or to the Pacific campaign that provide some clues. For instance, I bought a shoulder tab from a uniform with the name of the ship to put in a shadowbox for my great-uncle Billy. I also found a cachet envelope dated May of 1942 with the STRONG DD 467 insignia, a rare find. That cachet is on the top of the Memories of STRONG page, and recently there was another one available on eBay. My buddy Andy Hoder whose dad was on STRONG picked it up for his collection. I look every day just in case another pops up for sale, as another family member may want one some day.
Recently though, I put “Kula Gulf” in the search box and found a book. The book was written and published in 1944 by Duncan Norton-Taylor (at the time, employed by Time Magazine) titled With My Heart in My Mouth. Just as we now have journalists embedded with our troops in trouble spots all over the world to report and even show us through the magic of television when pivotal events occur, there were men and women journalists working in the WW2 theaters putting their lives on the line to send reports back home. Norton-Taylor was just one of these brave souls.
These guys literally island hopped to get where the stories were by begging rides on any mode of transport available. One day they may be on a destroyer or light cruiser on maneuvers, the next in a jeep going from base to base. The next day may find them in a rickety and very uncomfortable airplane with only 3 working engines or an LST delivering troops to a hot zone. Assigned and supported by the U.S. military in all places, these folks traveled freely, carrying their belongings and gear in duffels and rarely stayed in one place for long. They were victim to the same living and battle conditions as the men and women they were following – 90% boredom and discomfort with about 10% true action. Most of the time they had better sleeping and dining opportunities as they could tag along with officers at will, but alot of the time they spent in the trenches in hopes of catching some action – and not a bullet. Some such as Ernie Pyles did lose their lives in service to their nation and their news agency, but all who came home had stories to tell.
Norton-Taylor left home in Oxford, Maryland bound for San Francisco. From there he hopped a ship bound for Honolulu, and then to Noumea, New Caledonia. He was essentially a civilian in the employ of the military following the actions of predominantly Naval operations. After moving from one base or ship to another he eventually ended up on the USS ST. LOUIS (code name “Maiden”), a light cruiser with DESRON 21 for part of the campaign at New Georgia, including the bombing of Munda and troop landings at Rice Anchorage. This is what caught my interest, and why I had to have a copy of the book. Duncan Norton-Taylor, along with B.J. McQuaid of the Chicago Tribune (on board USS HONOLULU, code name “Flag”), and Allan Jackson of the International News Photo Service (on USS HELENA) were witness to the sinking of the STRONG on July 5th, 1943.
On witnessing the sinking, he says, “All at once, not far off, on our starboard hand, a cloud of fire and smoke bubbled out, lighted up the unmistakable, rakish shape of an American destroyer. Messages crackled over TBS. It was the destroyer STRONG. She had been torpedoed.” He wrote little more about STRONG, as the rest of the chapter was about events surrounding the official Battle of the Kula Gulf. So my quest now is this: what other written material did he leave behind that might have more information about events during the two or three days he was on the ST. LOUIS? He wrote for Time, then went on to become Editor of Fortune Magazine. I'm charged with more research, phone calls and such to see if he left behind archives of information that might give me a few more clues about the battle. It's harder than you might think to contact the big shot magazine companies, but I plan to exhaust all possibilities.
I highly recommend this book for a perspective of the time, the events and the people engaged in the Pacific theater. If you look on eBay you will find a few copies, but they are relatively expensive. It's a rare book. I got lucky and found more copies on Amazon.com and for far cheaper prices, however checking again I see that they have gone up from what I spent. Or, see if you can find one at a local library or through an inter-library loan system. I find that reading this book has brought up a few more questions and has given me another mystery to solve which will be the subject of a future blog. Once it's solved, I'll have a very cool story to tell – I hope so anyway!
If any of you have connections to Time Magazine or Fortune Magazine, please advise!