Rescue At Sea

Interesting Material About The Underhill Sinking Rescue At Sea. I have recently been in touch with Tommy Thomason who forwarded to me a letter from Neale Westfall that had been sent to Ed Graham one of the pilots, from VPB-71, that picked up our shipmate Frank Dougherty. You may remember that Neale has attended some of our Memorial Services. We believe you may find the letter interesting.
From: Rodger Crum
.

16 JAN. 1997
4412 SEAGROVE RD.
PORTSMOUTH, VA 23703
DEAR EDWARD,
I RECEIVED A LETTER IN EARLY JANUARY FROM FRANK DOUGHERTY, THE USS UNDERHILL SURVIVOR YOU EVACUATED ON JULY 26, 1945. HE ENCLOSED A COPY OF YOUR LETTER TO HIM DATED JULY 17, 1994.

IT WAS OF SPECIAL INTEREST TO ME AS I WAS COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER OF LST 768 (LATER CO). WE WERE VICE CONVOY COMMODORE OF THE CONVOY, AND HAD BEEN DESIGNATED BY CONVOY COMMODORE TO TAKE ON ALL SURVIVORS, PLUS ALL MEDICAL PERSONNEL FROM ALL THE CONVOY SHIPS. WE WERE DETACHED TO OPERATE SINGLY & RUN TO SAMAR, WHILE THE MAIN CONVOY WENT ON TO LEYTE. IT WAS OUR SKIPPER, BERNARD (RUSS) ANDREWS WITH WHOM YOU COMMUNICATED IN THE EVACUATION ATTEMPT & PARTIAL SUCCESS. IT IS MOST UNFORTUNATE THAT FRANK HAD TO LOSE HIS LEG, BUT HE SEEMS TO HAVE RECOVERED GREATLY, ESPECIALLY IN HIS SPIRIT.

YOUR OPEN SEA LANDING AND AIRMANSHIP WAS OUTSTANDING. WE HAD HOPED TO GET TEN BADLY INJURED MEN OFF, BUT AS YOU SAID, IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE. LST'S DO NOT CARRY BOATS WHICH COULD MAKE SAFE APPROACH TO A TENDER SKINNED PBY IN A CHOPPY OPEN SEA. IT WAS A HAIRY EXPERIENCE, AND I REMEMBER AT THE TIME WONDERING IF YOU WOULD BE SUNK BY OUR LCVP AS IT SURGED & ROSE, STRIKING AGAINST THE SIDES OF YOUR AIRCRAFT. YOUR DECISION TO TAKE ONLY ONE EVACUEE (FRANK) WAS A WISE ONE. OTHERWISE THERE IS A GOOD CHANCE THE WE IN LST 768 WOULD HAVE TWO PILOTS AS UNEXPECTED PASSENGERS INSTEAD OF BEING ABLE TO LIST ONE SERIOUSLY INJURED MAN AS ON HIS WAY TO THE HOSPITAL.

YOU SPEAK OF THE PROPOSAL TO LAY OIL ON THE SEA, WHICH YOU DECLINED. HOWEVER, OUR SHIP DID, IN THE INTERIM RUN AHEAD OF YOUR INTENDED TAKE OFF DIRECTION & DROPPED MISCIBLE OIL. WE HAD A LOT ON BOARD WHICH WE USED TO MAKE SNEAKS (??) IN OKINAWA. I DOUBT THAT IT HAD ANY GREAT EFFECT ON HELPING YOU TO TAKE OFF. YOUR TAKE-OFF WAS AN OUTSTANDING ONE. I HAVE IN LATER YEARS WORKED IN MANY OCEAN RESCUES FOR THE COAST GUARD, IN SIX SHIPS AND BEING IN RESCUES COORDINATED WITH AIRCRAFT, BOTH FIXED WING & ROTARY WING. I HAVE NOT SEEN A FINER EXHIBITION OF SEAMANSHIP/AIRMANSHIP THAN YOU DISPLAYED.

I HAVE ATTENDED TWO REUNIONS OF UNDERHILL IN ANNAPOLIS, WHICH THEY HOLD ON THE SAME DAY AND HOUR AS THE ORIGINAL TRAGEDY. THE HOUR IS HOWEVER ALTERED TO EASTERN TIME SO WE WILL HAVE A CONSTANT THAT PROVIDES US WITH REASONABLE TIME ACCESS TO THE EVENT. I SHALL CONTINUE TO JOIN THEM AT FUTURE REUNIONS. I FEEL SO CLOSE TO THEM, HAVING BEEN THE CONNING OFFICER IN THE PERIOD OF EMERGENCY, AS THAT WAS MY GENERAL QUARTERS STATION, AND I WAS ALREADY ON THE CONN IN MY REGULAR WATCH PRIOR TO THE MEETING WITH THE SUBS AND HUMAN TORPEDOES, OR ONE MAN SUB.A

I HOPE WE CAN MEET ONE DAY AND PERHAPS REMINISCE ON THESE EVENTS NEARLY 52 YEARS AGO. IN THE MEANTIME, ACCEPT MY APPRECIATION FOR A TRULY OUTSTANDING OPERATION. IT IS ONLY UNFORTUNATE THAT WORD OF THE SINKING WAS NOT SENT OUT THROUGHOUT THE FLEET. A WEEK OF SO LATER INDIANAPOLIS WAS LOST TO A JAPANESE SUBMARINE IN THE SAME GENERAL AREA. PERHAPS THINGS WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT IF THEY HAD BEEN ADVISED OF THE EXTREME HAZARDS IN THAT ZONE.

SINCERELY-
NEALE WESTFALL
 

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