The following excerpts represent a moment in history that is indicative of the supreme sacrifice that was made by those who served in the armed services of World War II. None of us should ever forget what this generation of men and women did to preserve the peace for future generations to come. For that reason alone these excerpts are moments in living history that should never be forgotten. The letters serve to help us understand what it was like in the last moments of the U.S.S. Laffey DD 459 and provide a written record that should be shared with all, so that we never forget how these brave men helped to bring victory in the Pacific during World War II.
Frank Baer was killed in action during the night battle of Savo Island November 13th, 1942.
As a crew member of the USS Laffey DD459 which sank that night, Frank was never clearly identified as having abandoned ship. Some say he did and was either pulled under by the suction, or more likely killed by shrapnel from the exploding ship as it was sinking. Others say he was killed during the night action against the Japanese fleet, but clearly others say he survived long enough to participate in helping to destroy sensitive documents before the ship sank. What ever the case, Franks parents tried desperately to find out what may have happened to their second son who was serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II and had written numerous letters to surviving crew members to find out if anyone knew the true fate of their son. Here are excerpts from a few of the many answers to Walter & Georgia Baers desperate request.
April 8, 1945 USS Casco AVP-12 Sunday~
" As for seeing Frank go over the side, I did not see him go over, but as for knowing him I did, and saw him when I was fighting the fire as we were in a bucket brigade. I saw him there and that was any were from 5 to 10 minutes before she blew up. After I saw him, I went below to help down there and when told to abandon then everyone came topside and went over and did not stop to see if they were in the right places or not. As for seeing him after the explosion, I am sorry to say but I did not see him." Lloyd C Sadler, COX
May 16, 1945 Navy Pier Chicago, IL ~
"Well Mr. Baer I can not tell you any more then I did in my first letter. Yes Frank was hit and killed and so was XXXXX the Water Tender. The both of them were along side of me. As for seeing them, it was all lit up from the other ships that were burning all around us. That is how I could see them."
Arthur W Ambler
April 5, 1945 USS Yakutat AVP-32 ~
"I saw him, your son, on deck about 10 minutes before we abandoned ship. He wasnt wounded and had a life jacket on. When we got the word to abandon ship I do not know what side he went over or if he did. I went over the starboard side. I myself was very close to the ship holding to a life raft when she blew up. Frank wasnt on the same raft as I. On deck was the last time I saw him. I can say this for a certainty, that he wasnt among the wounded either on the hospital ship or in the hospital in New Zealand, as I myself was hit in the water and was with the rest of the wounded in the two places that I mentioned." M. A. Tomich
June 30th, 1945 VPB 62 ~
"Much as I would like to be able to tell you what happened to your son, I am unable to add any more to the information you already have. I know how hard it is for you and your wife not knowing what has happened to your son and I will write you any further information that I might find." Sincerely Yours, George A. Rice Jr. LIEUT
July 15th, 1945 Washington, DC ~
I am sorry I dont have information about "Baer". I went off the port side on the bow with the gun crew and some cooks, and as far as us I know no one else came off there, because she blew before we had gotten far. A number of men did leave from port side, mid-ships and aft. As you know that part of the ship received the worst of the explosion and I believe there were some men that got it there."
H.J. Lyon CGM
April 26th, 1945 USS Pakana ATF-108 ~
" I am almost certain that your son abandoned ship by jumping over the port side when the word was passed. It could very possibly be that the suction of the ship sinking might have taken him under but that is not very likely for I was only 100 feet from the ship when the explosion occurred. Although there was a slight suction most of the flying metal was thrown further out from the ship. There is a good possibility that he may have swum to Savo Island or directly across from it, which was Japanese occupied territory. There was a current running in that direction and at daybreak I found myself and others exactly in that location. I have every reason to believe as you do that he may have possibly been taken prisoner by the Japanese." Ch. Mach G.R. Heffler
April 28th, 1945 West Coast Sound School, San Diego, CA ~
"If you recall in my letter to you sometime in 1943, I told you that Frank and Ken Umbarger destroyed papers in the ships office together after the battle was over, yet Karam claims, according to the way his letter reads that Frank was killed during the battle, yet Ken Umbarger worked with him after the battle and I saw him after the battle myself. Frank I am speaking of. The vance that Karam speaks of is what I always knew as the shield that houses the vents around the base of number two stack or funnel. Frank was not lying under there. That I can remember for sure. I searched under those two vances myself and the only man anywhere near the vance was a fireman who was a 20mm gunner. I cant recall his name, but he was dead. No one else was there! I believe his name was XXXX! As to your question of all the dead and wounded being accounted for before we abandoned ship, I cant truthfully say is true, because everything was in a state of confusion and I dont think anyone had time enough to look completely over the ship for dead and casualties."
J.M. Curtis SoM2/c
October 5th, 1945 Madison, WI ~
"A few days ago I received a letter from you dated February 27th of this year. From the looks of the envelope it has really traveled. However it finally found me at home where I have been since January at which time I was medically discharged from the Navy after being in and out of hospitals since the Laffey was sunk. Of course I knew Frank well, but am sorry to say that I cannot give you and Mrs Baer any information about him after he left the ship. I went over the port side just before the ship blew up and there were so many men in the water it was impossible to keep track of just who was around. Of course when the ship blew up there was such a turmoil as to be indescribable. I believe that most of those who survived the blast have been pretty well accounted for. I lived with Swanson on Guadalcanal and saw him off to the states. I stayed down in that area until July of the following year serving on signal towers and finally came back to the states myself because of malaria and internal injuries which called for surgery and hospitalization in the Newport Naval hospital. I am home recuperating from an attack of malaria. This makes 15 times. I sincerely hope that you have heard some word of your son by this time. If it is the worst may I say that those of us who were lucky enough to come out of it alive will never forget our shipmates who were heroes every one of them. Thank God the war is over and all men can come home again. But as they do, they are all remembering those whom they left behind all over the world." Sincerely Yours, J.A. Herman
August 25th, 1945 Stockton, CA ~
"I am afraid I will not be able to give you very much information regarding your son. The day the Laffey went down, approximately fifteen or twenty minutes before, your son helped carry me down to sick-bay and the last I saw of him, he was returning to the upper deck to see if he could help some of the other men. What happened from then on, I cannot say as everything happened so fast. I was in the water for eight hours, and when I was picked up, I was taken to the hospital in New Zealand and lost touch with the men from the Laffey." Jack W. Faunce
September 30th, 1945 NOB #230 Ship Service
"I am sorry to say that I was blinded for a day or so from the explosions, diesel oil and salt water, and was unable to see much. I was able to see a couple of Jap ships go sky high though. I know that your brave son helped to make those sights possible. Frank was a swell egg, but when things happen as they did that Friday the 13th, choice is out of the question when it comes to who is going to survive. As you know we lost our swell captain too. I was slightly wounded and swam to Guadalcanal and stayed there for a week. I had malaria six times. During that time we looked for Frank, but never heard of him. I am so deeply hurt to see such a fine boy pass on at such a young age. I was just 17 when it all happened. I sure experienced alot in such a short period of time."
Roy John Yesinkevich S1/c
May 24th, 1945 USS ABSD-4 ~
"Previous to the nigh of Nov 13th, and whenever we were in battle, Frank was in the vicinity of my general quarters station. This was on a 20mm gun on the port side of the after stack. The last time I remember seeing Frank was in the late afternoon when our task force was attacked by a large force of torpedo planes. We suffered no damage during this. During the surface battle that night I cant remember seeing Frank in the vicinity. We were making a torpedo run on a battleship and a shell struck nearby and I was knocked unconscious. When I came to there was a fire around and I left my station. Before leaving I looked around but did not notice anyone around we were dead in the water. I abandoned ship before it blew up and swam ahead. Between the time I got off and reached a life raft I did not see Frank in the water. Neither was he in the life raft with us. A fellow named Karam knew Frank quite well. I think I heard him remark after, that Frank had been one of those that was killed. I cant remember if he ever saw him on the ship or not. During the engagement a torpedo struck the ship and a man was knocked over the side but was recovered."
John H. Jeukuis BM2/c
August 2, 1945 N.A.B. Navy 140 Stevedore Detachment ~
"I saw him in the water before the ship blew up. I never saw him after that. I couldnt see very well. My face and eyes got burnt." Raymond E Mercer S2/c
At Sea July 23, 1945 USS LST#31
"The only time I saw your son was at the mess hall and that was the last time I saw him. There was someone in the water before abandon ship but I dont think that was him because it was black out and we couldnt see two feet in front of us. I also abandoned ship on the port side it was on the bow. There were seven others besides myself. After we got off the ship it was about 4 or 5 minutes then it blew up and we made two life rafts. Your son wasnt on it. He may have swam to shore which was two miles or closer, and that was Savo Island and the Japs were on that island at the time the fight took place." Ralph Frank Boncoskey Coxwain
9 February, 1945 US Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida
"I regret sincerely that I am unable to provide any information regarding Frank. It so happened that I did not abandon the ship until approximately one minute before the explosion, and when doing so used the starboard side. I was picked up by Marines the following morning along with several other survivors, and taken ashore. While on the island it was part of my job to make lists of the ships personnel and catalogue them. The lists we made were those the Navy promulgated in a later version no doubt. I cannot factually say that I saw Frank during the battle, in the water or on land afterwards." John McLeod
(John also made reference to two other officers that might have information. They were LTjg John A. Kelly and LT Lars Wanggaard. Lloyd Sadlers letter also mentions a Leo A Lorton (sp) S1/c on the Yorktown, a Robert K Parrish S1/c at D.C.G.O. 9th ND St Louis, and a Ted Thomas on the Owens DD 536 as possibly having information.
June 27th 1945 USS Deliver ARS-23 ~
"I remember your son quite well, but I am very sorry I cannot give you the
information you desire
In your letter you mentioned he went off the port side. I went
off the starboard at the break of the focsle. We all had plenty of time to get off if we
cared to. However, we tried to put out the fire which was in our #4 magazine. Orders were
then given to cease fighting the fire and move forward. That is when we all started to
leave the ship. I got 20 ft from the ship before she blew up. The explosion caused a sort
of tidalwave, which sent me quite clear of the ship. The Gunnery Officer told me later he
didnt feel any suction from her sinking, nor did I. I was hit by shrapnel while in
the water and didnt stay on the canal but one night. They flew me off the next
morning to a rear base hospital. So I was not unable to be around my shipmates long enough
to see who got off. The greater part of our men seemed to have been injured in the water
rather than on the ship. It was very dark that night and the water was covered with fuel
oil which would make it very difficult to identify anyone. Lawrence F. Mitchell C.E.M.
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