In a tale not unfamiliar but a rarity at this day and age, The Standard sat down with one of few remaining World War II veterans, Vernon Howell of Excelsior Springs, and heard his personal experiences as he served aboard the USS Detroit.
Howell at age 17 knew he wanted to enlist in the armed forces and wanted to be a second-generation soldier in his family, his father Calvin insisted his enlistment take place with the U.S. Navy. “My father said for me not to sign up for the Army but to sign up for the Navy instead. He knew that by joining the Navy I wouldn’t be eating dirt every day, but instead I would have three meals and a shower on board the ship,” Howell recalled. Because Howell was a minor, his father took him to have his enlistment papers notarized at an undertaker in Kansas City, Kan. The very same evening his papers were signed, Dec. 31, 1941, Howell boarded a train at Union Station to begin his voyage.
“I took the train to the outskirts of Chicago, to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station,” Howell reminisced. “They only kept me for 14 days before shipping us from boot camp to San Francisco.”
The USS Detroit, which was Howell’s destination and would be his home for the next three years and nine months, was launched in 1922 and by the time Howell was on board the vessel was nearly 20 years old and well used having served as the flagship of Light Cruiser Divisions, the west coast of the U.S. near Hawaii, and even participated in fleet problems along the east coast of the U.S. and the Caribbean Sea. During the 1930s she was the flagship of Destroyer Squadrons of the U.S. Navy Battle Force based in San Diego up until 1941 when the Detroit’s home port was moved to Pearl Harbor.
A 7,000-ton Omaha-class Light Cruiser, the USS Detroit was right there in the thick of things when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In just 38 days Howell would board the Detroit after she survived the attack. When Japan advanced
the harbor the Detroit was moored with light-cruiser Raleigh and target-ship Utah. Detroit was able to get underway and patrol the waters near the island of Oahu immediately after the attack.
Howell distinctly remembered his first trip to Pearl Harbor aboard the Detroit. “As you came into the harbor you could see oil, it was everywhere, on the beach and the harbor. All of the ships were sunk; they were rolled over, which is what the Japanese were after. Although I wasn’t on Pearl Harbor when it was bombarded, our ship was what they called Fox 13, or anchored,” Howell continued. “The Detroit, all it got was four bullet holes in the smoke stack. It was Utah and Raleigh that were destroyed.”
According to Howell the seaman’s duty onboard the Detroit was to steer the vessel to and from Pearl Harbor to act as a convoy carrying oil tankers between San Francisco, and back to the Harbor. Howell’s stint with the Navy did not end at the Harbor. Shortly thereafter the Detroit made way to the Aleutians, part of the Alaskan territory, where she and her crew covered landings on Amchitka island. Howell made reference to the War Diary of the USS Detroit, “It was Jan. 12, 1943 when the Detroit’s naval invasion fleet ‘slammed around off Amchitka.’ When the
storm slacked a bit, impatient and afraid of time, which was eating up his supplies,
By Jae Juarez • firstname.lastname@example.org