The Unknown Sailors

Over fifty years after these boys first set sail, their ship has finally come in.

The De Young finished its voyage under tow. "The rest of the trip was real scary," Larson recalls. "We were moving real slow, a sitting duck. We were listing thirty degrees when we arrived, but it was one of the happiest days of my life when we pulled into port and there was the Pacific Fleet in for refueling."

Since the ship had been abandoned by its civilian crew, it was officially taken over by the Navy, which promptly renamed it the U.S.S. Antelope.

The Armed Guard engaged the enemy all over the world and was in on every invasion, carrying men and war materials. Luxury liners converted into troop carriers were the plum assignment; on the other end of the scale was duty on ships that ferried high-octane fuel or munitions--a single bomb and there would be nothing left when the smoke cleared but debris and an oil slick.

Sometimes survival was just a matter of chance. Cecil Ray, another guardsman from Colorado Springs, arrived in San Pedro Bay, Leyte Island, on October 24, 1944, as part of General Douglas MacArthur's famous return to the Philippines. Ray was on board the SS Samuel K. Barlow, which was loaded with high-octane fuel and 500 Army troops.

"We had barely dropped anchor," Ray recalls, "when we became the target of an enemy bomber. Our 20mms were pounding at him all the way. Upon seeing fire spitting from his wings, I jumped behind the bridge wheelhouse, meeting the captain coming around from the other side.

"In a split second, the plane was by us and crashed into the bay just off our port bow. Jubilantly, I yelled, 'We got him, we got him!' At about that same instant, there was a terrific vibration on the bridge. The gunner in the gun tub nearest me was pointing at an object that had come to rest no further than five feet away. The object was a 200-pound unexploded bomb."

During 29 days in San Pedro Bay, all the while sitting on high-test fuel, the Barlow suffered through fifty air raids, including a kamikaze "Divine Wind" attack that missed the ship by only a few feet.

Ray was a long way from Colorado Springs.
Raised on a farm just west of Denver, eighteen-year-old Harold Flenthrope joined the Navy in December 1942 "with the Army breathing down my neck."

He was sent to Farragut, Idaho, for training, "which in January and February is the worst place on earth to be," Flenthrope says. "Or so I thought." When the Navy asked for a hundred volunteers to go to signal school at the University of Chicago, he was among those who stepped forward, "mostly to get out of Idaho."

Flenthrope had no idea he was bound for the U.S. Naval Armed Guard. "As a matter of fact, I had no idea of what the Armed Guard was," he says.

But by September 1943, he was a signalman on board the SS W.S. Thayer, a Liberty ship bound for the Mediterranean loaded with tanks and guns. "I was actually looking forward to going to sea," he says. "But I was assigned to the ship in the evening, and we left at three in the morning. There was another signalman who had some experience, which, I guess, is why he figured he could make me take that first shift while he went to bed.

"I was real nervous. It was pitch black, and you couldn't even see your hands in front of your face. I didn't know what I was doing as we were trying to form up a convoy. The only thing I knew about the ship was where I was supposed to sleep and where the bridge was...I've never forgiven that fellow for leaving me like that."

But Flenthrope got through the night. He even managed to avoid seasickness. "Somebody told me to 'stay midships, don't look at the water and don't eat too much,'" he recalls.

Except for his sleepy counterpart, none of the Armed Guard crew had been to sea before.

Unloading in Algiers, the Thayer took on the job of shuttling troops to Naples, Italy, which had recently been captured from the Germans. But kicking the Germans out of Naples didn't remove the threat from the air. "We were bombed every night," Flenthrope says. "As a signalman, I had nothing to do when we were in port except stand around and be scared. At least the gunners were too busy to be scared."

Although the nightly bombing raids took their toll on the other ships in the harbor, the Thayer was spared. And finally, the ship and her crew were sent back to New York for reassignment. But their joy at being home was short-lived; they soon were told their ship was going to be "winterized."

"Everybody knew what that meant," Flenthrope says. "It meant Murmansk--the suicide run." Keeping the Soviet Union in the war was crucial to Allied strategy--it spread the German military thin on two fronts. But the Soviets desperately needed supplies, and there were only two deep-water routes available. One was to the Persian Gulf and India, the same trip Jones had taken his first trip out. But the Indian ports were poorly equipped to handle the massive off-loading of war supplies, and a ship might have to wait idle for weeks before it could get under way again. The supplies themselves would take weeks to reach their destination, traveling by rail and roads to the Russian front.

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