Friday, June 10, 2011

A Sea Story?

On page 19 of American PT Boats in World War II written by Victor Chun and published by Schiffer Publishing is a painting by Lt. Cmdr Griffith B. Coale. Coale was an American artist and was part of the Navy Combat Art program that was established by Admiral Chester Nimitz before the US entry into World War II.

The story behind the painting is that on June 10, 1942, two PT boats set out from Midway on a special mission. As the sun set a chaplain performed services and US Marines fired volleys, two coffins were lowered into the embracing waters of the Pacific Ocean where so many others had just recently found their eternal rest. The most startling aspect of this solemn ceremony is the nationality of the deceased - they were Japanese aviators who had been killed during the Battle of Midway and the coffins are draped in the rising sun flag of Japan.

This sounds like a story to be told and told again, showing how noble the American fighting man is in war. Except no one else mentions this story. Not even the official history of the PT boats, At Close Quarters, includes this tale. Ted Meredith's memoir of his times in MTB Sqns 7 and 15, PT Boat Officer - Stories from 50 Years Ago, does not mention this. While William Breuer's Devil Boats skips any coverage of Midway. Gordon Prange's Miracle at Midway has no reference to this event. This story is absent in Incredible Victory by Walter Lord. I doubted I would find it in Stafford's Big E, but I looked anyway and found nothing. PT boats Inc. web-site mirrors what is written in At Close Quarters.

What At Close Quarters, on page 81 and PT Boats Inc do record is a solemn task the PT boats did carry out at Midway. On June 6, 1942, the small wooden craft went to sea and did bury men killed during the air raid. Thus was committed to the sea eleven United States Marines.

USS Trout pulled two survivors of the heavy cruiser Mikuma on June 9 off a raft. On June 18, USS Ballard rescued 35 Japanese survivors of the sunk aircraft carrier Hiryu. All these men became prisoners of war and sent back to the United States.

Sea stories usually start with someone saying "I was there..." In this case I was not there and it seems no one else was there to record a very memorable event. So the story behind this painting remains a mystery for now. Because of the American spirit of fair play and helping out the unfortunate, I could see this happening. I just wish I could find independent confirmation it happened.

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