USS HOUSTON CA 30
“The galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”
By David Flynn
On December 7, 1941,
I was an on-duty radioman aboard the cruiser, U.S.S. Houston lying at anchor
off of the one of the islands in the Philippines.
We had recently left the Cavite Navy Yard where 1.1
"pom-pom" anti-aircraft guns had been installed. We had been ordered
to complete any uncompleted repairs at sea. The consensus,
"scuttlebutt", had it that war was imminent.
By way of background, radiomen were heavy readers to combat
long hours at sea and radio signals (dots and dashes) are mechanically put on
paper via the neurons and the typewriter. The operator hears and copies phrases
or sentences - not characters or words. He will, at times, pay no attention to
what he is copying.
I was reading Thorne Smith's The Glorious Pool where the
longer one stayed in the pool the younger he or she got when annoying
"dots and dashes" began to invade my ears. The message read, "Japan has declared hostilities. Govern yourselves
accordingly". In accordance with Navy Department practice, I typed the
GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) on the message, threw it in the "in basket"
and went back to Mr. Smith. Sometime later (it was probably seconds) the import
of the message struck a responsive chord, the captain was alerted and we got
underway to prepare for the events ahead.