Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Priest - A POW - A Ship

This (note at end) corresponds with my visit last week with Otto. I got to read about 40 pages of "SHIP OF GHOSTS" to Otto while I was there. Everyone who visits should take some time to read from it. Due in October, it is a supeb book! Otto is such fun to talk with. He's the real deal and even in pain he manages a positive outlook, except when he does not, if you know what I mean. I was on my way to an interview with a WOWOTUH vet from USS Franklin when I got a cell message that allowed me a two hour delay. It was a perfect opportunity to stop in and visit with Otto (At the Lyons, NJ Veterans Nursing Home). I told Otto about the other vet ... the connection is to my ship, USS O'Callahan (DE-1051) in service from 1968 to about 1992. I've been helping our reunion team with the ship's website, - but as yet, I have never been to a reunion myself. One of the leaders let me know by email about the WOWOTUH vet, Mr. James Blanchard, who lives in Barnegat, NJ. Blanchard is the "dying sailor" in a famous photo and film of a priest giving last rites aboard the kamikaze struck Franklin (1945). The Priest was Father O'Callahan (Medal of Honor for what he did that day that saved the ship - his sister, Rose Marie, (a nun) was at that very time, just liberated from Japanese imprisonment in the P.I. - she later Christened the USS O'Callahan!). In the photo Blanchard had just been rescued from the depths of the ship where 300+ sailors were trapped. Lt. Gary (Medal of Honor) was the one who went below in a maze of passageways inside air pipes and maintenance spaces and got the doomed sailors out into the air. There was a DE named USS Gary (DE-326) too (my friend Dallas Bethea was CO of Gary in the 80's when the ship starred in the movie RED OCTOBER). Dallas read my book (it is online and free) about "stuff" including my adventures aboard O'Callahan. When he was CO of USS Cowpens (CG-63) ... Dallas invited me to come to Hawaii and ride his ship back to San Diego on a Tiger Cruise. Truly, before that, I had put the Navy way way way in the back of my mind. Later as I adjusted my self-employment - I decided to get involved with video. I ran into some WOWOTUH Tin Can Sailors and began taping their stories for a documentary about Destroyer Sailors. Then... I attended a state meeting and heard a one-eyed salt lay out the story of the USS Houston and the Burma Railroad (River Kwai). I was stunned. "How come I did not know this story?" The video resulted and now it is a DVD along with the JAVA SEA (from the Dutch). To get word out about the DVD, I built a website - . The purpose of the website was also to expand on the information I could not cover in the film. It became a complicated mess of patchwork at one point, but I lucked out and had a class teaching web design. The shoemaker had no time, but the students did, and the result is the look and feel of the website today. With Hornfischer's NEW book("Ship of Ghosts") coming out (His last book: "The Last Stand of The Tin Can Sailors" ) and the Houston and Java films reborn as DVD's, things are on a roll. Meanwhile, I have a lot of other interviews from Houston Survivors and family and lots of Tin Can Sailor interviews and more -- Many of these will eventually find their way to web videos where people can learn even more about the Asiatic Fleet and the Heroes who served it. And one day, I will do a Tin Can Sailor film from all the interviews. Mr. Blanchard's interview will likely be on the O'Callahan website and on ME3TV in a few weeks or a couple of months. I'll be spending a few days down in Asheville, NC with USS Houston's kin, the Asiatic Fleet - next week. Of course, I plan to do some more interviews there. In the course of time, I have also found myself helping some other veterans groups get their history onto tape or DVD. The 11AD (army) now has a number of DVD's available from Buzz Creek. Some "home movies" made by Sgt. Raymond Buch, shows the liberation of Mathausen Concentration camp. Gruesome to say the least. One of those liberated was a young Jew named, Tibor Rubin. Tibor joined the US Army when of age and won the Medal of Honor in Korea. President Bush ony recently presented the medal to Mr. Rubin at a ceremony at the White house. Such History! Such a generation! Thank you - all of you.
To all the Houston Family
I send my most humble thanks for letting me be a part of your lives.
Vic Campbell, Buzz Creek
(message to Val follows - this was forwarded to all the Houston Family) (Note - Otto is totally blind now for about 7 years) Hi Val,
I was in New York this past weekend for Reserve drill and took the opportunity to visit with Otto at the VA Nursing Care center in New Jersey. He is doing as well as to be expected. Understandable he's a bit frustrated at all the poking and pordding he's getting while the doctors try to stabilize his condition and make him as comfortable as possible. He's been listening to books on tape and Trudy has been vreading him the manuscript for the new Houston book that's due out in October. He sang high praises for it, and so I am contacting the author to see about getting a copy for the Annapolis Library when it is released.
Naturally, passing the long days are difficult. The other gentleman in the room is hard of hearing, so conversations of any great length between them is virtually nill. My wife and I enjoyed our visit with him, and since I am now attached to the Bronx Reserve Center, I plan to stop by next month as well.
He really enjoys receiving the cards and letters folks have been sending, so if you chat with the other members and NOK, encourage them to write. He also mentioned how proud he was as to how the NOK and all have taken up the mantle of keeping the Houston memory alive and well.
Although Otto is a fighter, it is clear to me and his situation is a serious one. I think hoping for a recovery to the level where he would be allowed to return home would be somewhat miraculous, at best. But - miracles do happen from time to time. I hope this finds you well. Please pass on to the members to keep Otto and Trudy in their prayers. Regards, Dave K.
__CDR David Kenney, USN (RC)
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