Daily Archives: December 6, 2018

The Opening Shot: The USS Ward at Pearl Harbor

USS Ward Painting

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is the day before the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and as I always do this time of year I spend a significant amount of time writing about it, so that we never forget the brave men of the Greatest Generation who were there.

One of these men was Lieutenant Commander William Outerbridge, the commanding office of the USS Ward DD-139. Outerbridge and veteran of 14 years of service, and he had taken command of the elderly ship less than 24 hours before she began her weekend Anti-Submarine patrol of the entrance to Pearl Harbor. In the inter-war years promotion was slow and opportunities for advancement slim. Outerbridge had been commissioned following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1927. He was the only Regular Navy Officer on the ship.

USS Ward 1919

The Ward was old but had very few miles on her. She was a Wickes class destroyer displacing 1250 tons and was armed with four 4” 50 caliber and two 3” guns. She was launched and commissioned in 1918 and was decommissioned and placed in reserve in 1921. Recommissioned in January 1941 she was assigned to Destroyer Division 80 at Pearl Harbor. This squadron of elderly ships consisting of the Ward along with USS Schley, USS Chew, and the even older USS Allen, was assigned to the Inshore Patrol Command.

As tensions between the United States and Japan increased the War Department and Department of the Navy issued a “War Warning” and Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet ordered a “shoot on sight” against any ship or submarine operating in the security zone outside Pearl Harbor which effectively put the ships of DesDiv 80 on a war footing.

Outerbridge had taken command on Friday December 5th and taken the ship to sea 6th at 0628. He had no idea that in just over 24 hours the guns of his ship would be the first American warship to fire at an enemy combatant in the Pacific during the war.

USS Condor

As the Ward patrolled the area just a couple of miles off of the entrance to Pearl Harbor the minesweeper USS Condor AMc-14 spotted a white wake near her at 0342.  The Officer of the Deck and Captain determined that it was the periscope of a submarine.  They signaled the Ward which was patrolling nearby: “Sighted submerged submarine on westerly course, speed nine knots” at 0348.

USS Antares

Outerbridge ordered the Ward to general quarters. After a futile search Outerbridge secured from General Quarters at 0443.  At 0458 Pearl Harbor’s anti-torpedo net gate was opened to allow passage of Condor and a number of other small ships including the Stores Ship USS Antares (AKS 14). Antares was towing a target back to base when at about 0635 a lookout on Ward noticed a wake following the auxiliary between her and her the raft.

Ward gun crew

Outerbridge returned to the bridge and sounded general quarters at 0640.  Outerbridge increased Ward’s speed to 25 knots and commended firing on the sub at 0645.  Ward’s number three gun scored a hit at the base of the sub’s conning tower and Wardcharged the sub.  Coming close alongside the Ward dropped depth charges which sank the sub.

Outerbridge notified harbor control at 0651 sending the message “Depth bombed sub operating in defensive sea area.” Some of his own officers thought that it was possible that Ward had attacked an American submarine but Outerbridge was confident that the sub was hostile. To emphasize that this was different from false alarms that headquarters was accustomed sent another message at 0653 “Attacked, fired upon, depth bombed, and sunk submarine operating in defensive sea area.”  It was just over an hour before the first Japanese planes would begin their bombing runs.

Japanese Midget Submarine Recovered From Pearl Harbor

Delays in seeking more conformation and reluctance to believe the report resulted in the message not being rapidly transmitted up the chain of command. It was a symptom of a parochial and divided command structure which did not respond quickly to the needs of war.

The rest is history. Within two hours the Battle line of the Pacific Fleet was sunk or crippled, all told 18 ships were sunk or damaged.  2402 Sailors, Marines and Soldiers were killed and another 1247 wounded.

But the war for Outerbridge and the Ward was not over. Outerbridge was promoted and transferred while the Ward was converted to a Fast Transport and redesigned APD-16 in 1943. She participated in actions in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and the Philippines.

USS Ward burning

Ward burning after Kamikaze Attack

On December 7th 1944 while conducting operations at Ormoc Bay the veteran ship was hit by a Japanese “Betty” Twin engine bomber. The large aircraft acting as a Kamikaze crashed into Ward and started fires and flooding that could not be controlled. One of the ships that came to Ward’s assistance was the USS O’Brien (DD 725) commanded by her former commander, William Outerbridge, who had commanded Ward at Pearl Harbor. Three years to the day after sinking the Japanese submarine Outerbridge was ordered to sink his former ship after rescuing her crew.

Outerbridge retired as a Rear Admiral in 1957 and died in 1986.  Like others of his generation he served in war and peace.  As we remember the attack on Pearl Harbor let us not forget him as well as the fine crew of the USS Ward.  These men were alert that quiet Sunday morning 77 years ago and took action. They sunk a Japanese midget submarine intent on entering Pearl Harbor and reported their actions.  One wonders what might have happened if Outerbridge’s reports had been acted on, interceptors scrambled and anti-aircraft defenses on ships and ashore been ready when the Japanese attackers swept in to attack Pearl Harbor.  Of course we will never know.


Padre Steve+

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“All Stop” Pausing to Remember the End of An Age

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the midst of a very busy “day off” due to the National Day of Mourning in honor of the late President George H. W. Bush, I stopped everything to watch his funeral. On a ship the command “All Stop” involves taking all engines off line by disengaging the engines from the propeller shafts, where they are neither driving the ship forward or in reverse. For landlubbers it is like one puts a car with a manual transmission in neutral or park. The engines may continue to run, but the ship is not being driven forward or reverse.

For a bit over two hours I did that today. I stopped. I didn’t look at email, didn’t answer telephone calls or texts, and didn’t check Facebook or Twitter, instead I stopped to watch, listen, and reflect during the funeral for President Bush. I had other things that I could have done, but as a historian I knew that it was the end of an age.

State funerals are something special in the United States, unlike our mother country we are a republic, and democracy. While Great Britain is a Constitutional Monarchy, it is still a monarchy. State funerals in the United States serve to remind us of our heritage even in times when many people either pay lip service to it, or actually despise it, longing for some form of autocracy. The funeral of President Bush served as a reminder of that better and more noble heritage, what Abraham Lincoln referred to as the better angels of our nature.

Earlier in the morning I had taken Judy to her first physical therapy appointment in two weeks since she tore a Quadricep muscle while doing at home physical therapy after her first knee replacement surgery. She is making great progress but the pain is still pretty bad and she has a hard time getting comfortable in bed, something that makes sleep difficult. After that we went out to breakfast before coming home.

As a Priest, Chaplain, military officer, and historian I thought that it was important. President Bush had been out of office for around 26 years and only had served one term as President, however, those four years were among the most critical in the history of the modern world. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the reunification of Germany as a Westen oriented member of NATO and the European Union, and the liberation of Kuwait and defeat of Iraq by a disparate coalition of 29 very different nations under the authority of the United Nations all within a period of barely two years time were remarkable, and something that we will probably never see again in our lifetimes.

Whether one agreed or disagreed with individual policies enacted by him or his administration; and I did have my share of disagreements one had to admit the basic decency, humility, and respect for political opponents that enabled him to build relationships and keep friendships.

Today’s funeral dealt with history and what it is to be an American: friendship, family, faith, a dedication to the ideals written in the Declaration of Independence, spoken of by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, which referred to that ideal and pledged to build a more perfect Union, as well as a belief in an ideal of service to something greater than ourselves.

Historian John Meecham, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Senator Alan Simpson, and his son, former President George W. Bush, speaking as a son and not a President, were a portrait and a biography of a man who loved life, loved his family, loved his country and who had the courage to defy Party hardliners if it benefited the county, and who could take the time to care about children afflicted with the Leukemia that killed his daughter Robin at the tender age of three.

His was the story of a man who defied affluence and privilege to serve his country by volunteering to serve as soon as he could after the nation went to war, and who at the tender age of 18 became the youngest Naval Aviator in our history. Shot down over Chuchi Jima, he mourned the loss of his flight crew and was always aware of the human cost of war. He did not commit the lives of young Americans, allies, or coalition partners without reflecting on the loss of his flight crew. When he committed the nation to war in 1991 he did so only under the mandate of the United Nations and with a coalition that would be unimaginable today. I could never see our current President doing what George H. W. Bush did to keep the world from plunging into an abyss of disorder and irresponsibility.

This isn’t to say that he didn’t make mistakes, couldn’t go for the jugular as a politician, or who didn’t change his positions on various issues out of political expediency; but he always remained a fundamentally decent man who had great empathy for others.

His funeral was attended by more heads of state, former heads of state, or royalty since that of John F. Kennedy. As I watched the hearse which bore his body from the funeral in which the current President and four other Presidents gathered along with so many heads of state or former leaders gathered I was reminded of the words of historian Barbara Tuchman speaking about then funeral of British King Edward VII:

“So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+


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