To the Far Horizons
The WWII Experience of Norman E. Branyan, U.S.N. (1920-1995)
by Fred Branyan
I have been asked a few times to describe the WWII combat experience of my father, Norman Earle Branyan, (3/7/1920-1/29/1995). I will try to do so here.
A few facts and philosophies should be noted. First, my father rarely spoke of the war, despite the fact he constantly read books and watched movies about it both at home and at theaters. The few personal experiences described below came from him, his father, and fellow crewmen who I have contacted over the years through the Mustin-Hornet Association and the USS Hancock Association. Overall combat actions of the ships involved are a matter of well described historical record. Second, my mother, Dorothy June Branyan, (1/4/1919-10/26/2001) gave him the inspiration and support to help make sure he survived and got back home. Some of her activities are included in this retelling for that reason. It had been my plan for a long time to ask my father to write his personal WWII history after he retired. I waited too long. Shortly after he retired in 1987 he developed Alzheimer's symptoms. That quickly made any writing or for that matter oral history project impossible for him.
My father attempted to enlist in the active duty Navy in 1938. Due to the fact he had flat feet, he was rejected. A fellow employee of his at Budd Steel in Philadelphia told him he could help him join the Navy Reserves. This he did on 6/10/1938. I have his complete personnel/medical record as it exists now in St. Louis. Of interest is the fact his 4 year enlistment contract had a typewritten addition that read "I further agree, in the event of war or national emergency, to serve throughout the duration of such war or national emergency if so required." That is precisely what happened to him--an involuntary extension for the duration--shortly after the Battle of Midway. My mother was not pleased by that development, or the fact that the guy who got him enlisted never was called up and stayed home the entire war.
After he enlisted, my father attended monthly drills and did 2 Annual Training's, one on the USS Texas, BB-35, 9/8-23/1938, the other on the USS Mason, DD-191, 8/15-30/1940. When I was young I remember seeing a gunnery trophy from the Texas. He told me that was related to 5" gunnery training, something that would probably have an influence on him in 1941. The Texas still exists as a museum ship in Houston. The Mason was given to the RN as part of lend lease and was sunk by U-101 in the Atlantic on 10/19/1941 while escorting a convoy between Newfoundland and Iceland.
My father was activated and called to active duty on 10/21/1940, almost 14 months before Pearl Harbor. He was assigned to the newly commissioned USS Sangamon, AO-28, a Cimarron class oil tanker. It cruised the west coast including Hawaii and Seattle, then went to Iceland, Newfoundland, and several ports on the East and Gulf Coasts in late 1941. His precise job I do not know, but I am guessing he was part of the "deck crew".
Probably as a result of his training on the USS Texas, he was assigned to the commissioning crew of the USS Hornet CV-8 on 9/22/1941. He was assigned to the Third Division, also a part of the deck force, which was involved in ship operations, handling of small boats, and the 5" 38 caliber Mark 24 guns on the aft of the ship. Based on info I received after he died he was a projectile ("shell") loader for gun #5, the forward gun in that 2 gun position near the starboard aft corner of the flight deck. I met his gun captain at a Mustin-Hornet reunion in 2001, and he said he remembered the size (then 6'0"), speed, and hard working ability of my father. The shells he handled weighed 54 pounds. The photo of my father below was taken at about the time he reported to the Hornet.
Norman E. Branyan Sept. 1941.
My parents got engaged on 10/18/1941, 2 days before the Hornet was commissioned, and planned on getting married in 10/1942. Actions around Guadalcanal prevented that plan from happening. They had met in 1939, their 1st date on my mother's calendar every year was marked at 10/21.
The Hornet went thru the Panama Canal on the way to the West Coast, departing Norfolk on 3/4/1942 , arriving in San Francisco after stopping at San Diego to pick up new planes on 3/30 or 31/1942. I recall my father telling me about some of his fellow crewmen sitting on the flight deck after liberty in one of the local towns on the way through the canal, picking crabs out of their crotches with tweezers and throwing them into the water. Standard military humor.
He never said much about the Doolittle raid, other than it was one of the most impressive things he ever saw. That very comment has been made by several Hornet and Enterprise crewmen I have spoken to and communicated with over the years. He also commented that the conditions at the time of launch were horrible-winds at 40+ knots, swells at 30+ feet, etc. (the standard Greyhound bus is 40' long). The fact that all 16 planes made if off OK in such conditions was a testament to the skill of the flight deck crew, especially the officer who timed the launch initiation signal with the pitching of the bow of the ship, and the training of the flight crews who made their first and only actual carrier launch. He was amazed they all got off OK. Every time I watch footage of the launch so am I.
The ship was involved in the Battle of Midway. The event that remained in the memory of the crew close to it was the crash landing of Ens. Daniel Sheedy, an F4F4 pilot from the Yorktown (see photo on page 13). Wounded and his plane shot up over the IJN fleet, he did a hard landing on the Hornet, followed shortly thereafter by the activation of the 6 50 caliber machine guns in his wings, which led to 5 KIA's and 20 WIA'S. The cause of the accident, either failure of the pilot to engage the safety switch on his guns or the destruction of the safety mechanism in combat, was never resolved. The pilot died in 2005, so he had a long time to think about it. For my father, then 22 and in his 3rd month of combat ops., this was the first time he had seen people killed first hand. For the mostly Navy Reserve crew, the same held true. The few times he mentioned it, he said it was a very sad day for the crew, considering the accident plus the loss of 29 of 30 Torpedo 8 crewmen during the attack on the IJN fleet. He did mention a few times that he saw the Yorktown burning on the horizon. My father was on the crew of the 5" gun closest to the camera on the left side of the photo. If I had had these photos while he was alive, he probably could have found himself. After Midway the Hornet returned to Pearl Harbor and trained pilots etc. prior to deployment to the Solomon Islands on 8/16/1942. He never mentioned any activities during this timeframe.
Bomb damage to Enterprise (24 August), torpedo damage to Saratoga (31 August), and loss of Wasp (15 September) reduced carriers in the South Pacific to one- Hornet. She bore the brunt of air cover in the Solomons until 24 October 1942 when she joined Enterprise northwest of the New Hebrides Islands and steamed to intercept a Japanese carrier-battleship force bearing down on Guadalcanal.
The ship was sunk as a result of combined torpedo and dive bomber attack on 10/26/1942 during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. Actually it was abandoned due to the fact the engines could not be restarted prior to the predicted arrival of an IJN surface task force. The USN attempted to sink it without success and the IJN finished the job with their more effective torpedoes when they arrived early on 10/27/1942. My father would never discuss the details of this experience, other than a few items. He was one of the last off at approximately 17:00 because he was a gun crew member, and was in the water approximately 2-3 hours. Sharks did not bother him or anyone else he was with, although they were in the area. He was picked up by the destroyer USS Barton DD-599, a Benson class destroyer, which in turn was sunk off of Guadalcanal on 11/12/1942 when it was blown in half by an IJN destroyer or cruiser launched torpedo. Most of the crew were KIA, 42 survivors were picked up. The bow of the ship was located in 1992 by Bob Ballard and crew. This fate for the ship that picked him up was another source of sadness and regret for my father.
The stories of some of his fellow crewmen are worth noting here. One told me of seeing sharks swim in and out of the 3 torpedo holes on the starboard side of the ship. For whatever reason they apparently decided not to bother the survivors in the water. Another, Earl Miller, in the same gun position, told me of a Kate torpedo bomber that was damaged and gliding directly toward the gun position late in the afternoon. He got close enough that he could see the pilot's face and he was still alive. The ship was listing approximately 10-15 degrees to starboard at that time. The 5" guns were non functional due to power loss. At the last moment, the pilot pulled up, barely missed the higher portside deck, and then crashed into the sea off the port quarter of the ship. The pilot involved, for reasons known only to him, decided to not emulate his 2 Kamikaze comrades who crashed into the ship that day. The plane was one of 3 from the IJN carrier Junyo, according to my friend James Sawruk, who has done some intensive research on the battles in the Pacific, that attacked the Hornet and did not return. Approximately 2 months earlier the carrier USS Enterprise CV-6, one of Hornet's sister ships, took a dive bomber's bomb in the same gun position, which killed everyone in it-38 men. Had the Kate continued its glide into the same position on the Hornet, the result would probably have been the same. Both my father and several other survivors commented on the heavy jolt given to the ship by the impact of the three IJN torpedoes which hit it.
One close call he did mention was the bomb that hit the flight deck aprox. 100-150' forward of his position. It landed adjacent to a 20mm battery manned by Marines. Unlike his position, below flight deck level, 20mm's were mounted in such a fashion that the upper torso of the gunners were on the same level as the flight deck. The bomb killed most of them. Total hits to the Hornet were 3 bombs, 3 torpedoes (which killed the engines), and 2 apparent Kamikazes, both possibly badly hit before impact. Casualties were 133 KIA.
The Barton took its survivors to Noumea, New Caledonia. Not until the summer of 2005 did I find out from a CV-8 survivor that my father volunteered to go to Guadalcanal shortly after he arrived, leaving on 11/8/1942 , arriving at "ADNAVBASE RINGBOLT"--Advanced Naval Base Ringbolt--on 11/12/1942. The story I had heard throughout my life from my parents, mainly my mother, was that the survivors were split 3 ways-1/3 to Guadalcanal, 1/3 to the US for survivors leave, 1/3 to Pearl Harbor as replacements. My guess for this version is my father didn't want my mother to know he had volunteered, which effectively kept him in the Pacific until his transfer back to the US on 10/23/43. He left for Guadalcanal on the USS Crescent City AP-40, an attack transport, ex civilian ship Del Orleans, acquired by the Navy in 6/1941 and commissioned in October 1942. The ship still exists, hopefully it will be a functional museum ship soon. It is the last ship in existence of either navy that participated in the Guadalcanal campaign.
My father would not say much at all about his time on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. From the few stories he did tell, my guess is he became an unofficial Marine for approximately one month on Guadalcanal after he got there. While driving a chow truck for the Marines, a Jap soldier jumped out of a bush apparently with visions of capturing the truck. He was alone in the truck, and had a .45 pistol on the seat beside him and a Springfield rifle behind his left shoulder. He picked up the .45, shot the soldier knocking him back into another bush, and drove on. It made him a life time believer in the stopping power of a .45. I heard this story while in grade school when I asked him what a .45 was. His father told me while there he was a BAR gunner on night perimeter duty. They were attacked. He fired the BAR until it jammed, at which time an enemy soldier was about to jump into his foxhole. He pulled out his KBAR and the soldier luckily landed on it in such a manner as to kill him. About that time the fight ended. At this point my grandfather started choking up and said something to the effect there were other stories including hand to hand combat but he could not tell them. Whatever horror stories he was referring to went with him and my father.
Precisely what he did the rest of the time I do not know. His personnel records are silent on the issue. He did mention he drove small boats at times and that he got a letter of reprimand for speeding a boat in Tulagi harbor. I remember seeing the letter as a small kid, it did not make it into his personnel file. I also recall him telling stories of picking up survivors of some of the many surface actions off Guadalcanal. They were told at one point to pick up IJN survivors for interrogation. They had Thompsons and BAR's with them. They found a group of candidates who refused to get in their boat. Per my father's story, which he only told once, a member of their crew then shot the IJN sailor who was giving orders. They still would not get in their boat. His crew then shot the next talker. By this time the local shark population was taking a very keen interest in the swimmers, and the remainder of the group cooperated and got in. Turned out they had shot 2 officers or NCO's. The remaining enlisted men did not share their Bushido credo. As my father said, you will not see this in the history books, but it was the way things were done by both sides. I asked him who the shooter was, and he changed the subject. I am guessing he was in charge of the boat, and if he was, knowing him he would not ask someone else to do an unpleasant job. The precise answer went with him.
He had a favorite military sick humor story from this time period, probably on Tulagi, that he must have told at least 10 times, especially on the rare occasions when he got a few Gin and Tonics into him. He was assigned to a latrine burning detail. They had just poured a bunch of gas down one of the holes when a member of the detail spotted Mr. X, despised by all who knew him, running toward the latrine to relieve the symptoms of malaria, dysentery, etc. that were common at the time. The detail then hid behind the latrine. When Mr. X was obviously decisively engaged in completing his mission, they tossed a burning rag into an adjacent hole. Mr. X according to my father then became America 's first astronaut, approximately 20 years before the real ones, and developed a case of "Great balls on fire".
I have a suspicion that my father may have been involved with PT boats while at Tulagi. I have never been able to prove it. When we rode an ex PT boat together when I was a kid, the Flying Saucer in Ocean City NJ, he always seemed happy to be on it.
My father left Tulagi on 10/23/1943, arriving back at San Francisco on 11/20/1943. His records are silent on how he came back, no doubt a USN ship. He returned to Philadelphia, I think by plane but am not sure, and my parents were married on 12/18/1943. They spent their short honeymoon at 256 Chippewa in Medford Lakes NJ in the cabin of a friend. He reported to Boston as part of the commissioning crew for the USS Hancock CV-19 in late December 1943. From that one of my mother's favorite WWII stories emerged.
My father was assigned duty on the ship on the night of 12/31/1943. My mother was not pleased with that situation. She then attempted to call the admiral commanding the Navy base, got a staff duty officer, and complained about the fact her new husband had duty, he may not be alive on 12/31/1944, etc.etc. (Several of the officers and enlisted personnel she met during visits to the ship in early 1944 were among the 221 ship's crew/airgroup personnel KIA/MIA by 8/15/1945). The duty officer made arrangements to have my father relieved of duty. Being the straight arrow that he was, on return to their apartment he asked my mother if she called the Red Cross, to which she responded "No I called the damn admiral". My father was not real happy with this violation of standard protocol but I guess he understood my mother's reasoning. Supposedly his face turned white when he heard her story, no doubt visualizing the harassment he would hear from his buddies the next day, but I guess they let him off easy since he was a newlywed. I never did hear that end of the story, although a few of his fellow crewmen confirmed that it happened. My mother stayed in Boston and Newport RI with my father throughout early 1945. They were together when the ship was not at sea and he had liberty.
My father was assigned to the 5th Division. His rank was Boatswain Mate 1st Class (BM1C), the very rough equivalent of a Staff Sergeant (SSG) E6 in the Army. I have been told by fellow crewmen on the Hancock that he was in charge of approximately 60 men. This tracks with the photos in the cruise book about the ship published after the war. A SSG in the Army then and now is in charge of aprox. 10-15 men in an infantry unit. To be directly responsible for that many men in the Army requires the rank of 1st Sergeant E8. Some of his fellow sailors have confirmed my suspicion that he was promoted very fast, the war being a major factor but apparently his descriptions by them as "a sailor's sailor", "a good leader and a great guy", and "always willing to help and teach us new guys" had something to do with the situation. To make BM1C in the first 24 months of active duty as he did would have been completely unheard of before the war, especially in deck divisions. I do not know for sure but I would guess that pre war promotion to BM1C took something in the 10-15 year range. (He entered active duty as a S1C-Seaman 1 st Class-and was promoted to BM3C on 8/1/1942, BM2C on 12/1/1942, and BM1C 10/1/1943). Somewhere along the way he also qualified as a Gun Captain. The 5th Division was a deck force unit whose battle stations were the 20mm gun batteries along the port side of the flight deck. I recall my father telling me his gun was almost directly across from where he had been on the Hornet. His battle station was in the 20mm gun battery directly above and slightly to the right of the black diagonal stripe on the port side of the hull approximately 30% of the way forward from the stern. Due to his rank, age or perhaps maturity he was also a member of the Master at Arms detail on the ship.
The Hancock reached the battle area of the Pacific after shakedown and training cruises in 9/1944, after departing Boston on 7/31/1944. This experience was another my father said little about. He saw the carrier Franklin get hit and almost sunk by a Kamikaze on 5/19/1945. He had small pieces of Japanese planes among his souvenirs, some of them may have come from a plane shot down on 11/25/1944 by the battleship New Jersey which landed on the flight deck. As far as additional close calls are concerned, he did tell me of one time when his watch was shot off while firing a 20mm cannon, apparently by a Jap plane coming in on an angle to get rounds past the splinter shield, and another when his helmet was pierced by a piece of shrapnel from a bomb or Kamikaze, I forget which. He was not injured in either episode. He was less than happy with the unknown officer who confiscated his helmet, no doubt to take it home and tell his family he was wearing it. His father told me of a sailor beside him hit by a 20mm cannon round from an incoming Jap plane and blown in half, with no injury to my father. I suspect he had other close calls, but I have not been able to locate as many Hancock crewmen as I have Hornet sailors to confirm that suspicion.
There is one story I remember quite well, because he told it to me while I was in college ROTC and we got involved in a discussion of how to be an officer. His point was to let your troops do the job they were trained for. His example, an F6F Hellcat had a hard landing on the flight deck. The external fuel tank it carried ruptured and a fire started. The enlisted fire fighters, trained for the job, started hosing the fire down while the pilot jumped onto the wing. An unknown officer grabbed the hose from one of the enlisted crewmen, and succeeded in hosing the pilot right into the fire. I found photos at the National Archives that I am almost positive match this episode, to include showing the burnt body of the pilot beside a mostly intact but burned Hellcat. My father also had firefighter training as did most enlisted crewmen. He was still unhappy with this event 20+ years after it happened on 2/19/1945.
He told me another story at about the same time that also got burned into my memory. I think it involved one of the carriers he was on, but may have been a ship he knew of, I forget the precise ID of the ship. If it was his ship, and I think it was, I am guessing it was the Hornet. The ship took a bomb or Kamikaze hit near an ammo magazine. A serious fire started near the magazine. A damage control officer evaluated the threat and decided to immediately flood the magazine. Bad news is the water tight doors were closed and locked and the 20-30 crewmen inside could not get out. The officer did his job correctly and no one blamed him for giving priority to the safety of the entire ship-anyone who has seen footage of the USS Arizona's magazine exploding can understand why. Nonetheless that man had to live with that memory the rest of his life. Hearing that story inspired me to remain in Army ROTC instead of attempting a transfer to Navy ROTC.
Another story that stuck in my mind was of a TBF Avenger that attempted to land with a loose bomb in the bomb bay on 1/21/1945 . Cost was 50 KIA, 75 WIA. This episode gave him a life long appreciation for aviation safety.
My father's ship and task force got caught in some typhoons in late 1944-early 1945, one of which capsized several destroyers with heavy loss of life. That experience gave him a life long respect for the power of the sea, especially after he saw a 5" twin gun turret probably weighing approximately 75 tons get ripped off of a ship by a wave. The USS Hancock is behind the USS New Jersey. Like most sailors, he also commented on the beauty of the ocean, especially the Pacific.
My father left the Hancock on 8/30/1945, 15 days after the surrender was announced. He returned to the US on board the light cruiser USS Astoria CL-90, which was scrapped in 1971. He was back on the East coast and discharged on 10/1/1945 at Bainbridge MD. Compared to other vets I have heard about, he was returned to the US and discharged very quickly.
Many times my father told me I should go into the Navy due to clean clothes, good food, real live bed to sleep in, toilets to use, etc., and to get to know medics and cooks. Medics could save your life, cooks made military life more tolerable. He never mentioned the crowded living quarters or lack of air conditioning that existed on WWII ships. As for food, powdered milk, eggs, etc. were the norm and I am guessing most of their food came out of a can. Better than Army food but nothing to write home about. He also never mentioned the close call on the Hornet when the Kate almost hit their gun position. As for off duty activity, he did describe briefly the red light district in Honolulu that has been featured on the History Channel, apparently he had Shore Patrol duty there. He did not criticize the customers, his comment was something like "If you might be dead in a few weeks, you might do things you would not otherwise do". He said very little about his liberty activities, since most of his money was shipped home by allotment he may not have had many. He did briefly describe a liberty at Ulithi atoll as a joke.
At some point in grade school I asked him if he hated the Japs. He said no, they were doing their job, we were doing ours, and their sailors didn't want to be there either. He also commented their 1941-2 navy was the most dangerous that ever sailed man for man, ship for ship, and plane for plane, and that our eventual victory was due to radar, numbers, and manufacturing ability, plus the training of our sailors. He described the IJN attack on the Hornet as the best coordinated and most professional such attack up to that time of the war by either side, and rarely if ever duplicated by the USN until very late in the war. He also said had they succeeded in sinking all of our carriers in the Guadalcanal campaign the island would have been lost with massive POW's and the war extended at least 2 years. At one point only the USS Enterprise was left. He did tell me of an IJN pilot brought on board one of his ships, I am guessing the Hancock, and a Marine armed with a Thompson was assigned to guard him. The Marine walked across the flight deck as the pilot was brought up to the flight deck, met him at the edge of the deck, and blew him right back into the ocean with his Thompson. Such was the intensity of hate felt by some crewmen throughout the war. My father told me by the time he saw that he was sick of seeing good and brave people die, both ours and theirs.
During the war he saw a lot of history. He saw 2 out of 4 USN fleet carriers sunk during 1942- Yorktown and Wasp-and was on the last to be sunk, Hornet. He was involved in the Guadalcanal campaign on the ground and on the water. His service with the Hancock took him through the actions in support of air attacks on Japan, Formosa, Philippine Islands, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Vietnam and other locations. During the Kamikaze attacks, which began in the fall of 1944, he saw many ships get hit, including his own. I once asked him if he shot any planes down, his answer was he saw his tracers going in to several, most of which did not depart the area of the ship. In addition to witnessing history, he helped make it as far as the number of aircraft shot down by the 2 ships he served on are concerned.
Upon his return he resumed work at Budd Steel. He did not join the reserves. One of my first memories dates to I am guessing 1951-2 when my father received a "Stand by for possible reactivation" letter from the Navy due to the Korean War. My mother went ballistic. It was my first introduction to what war, separation, etc. are all about. Fortunately the Navy didn't activate him. He completed a 5 year night school program at Drexel Univ. in Phila. in 9 years, in 1955, and I recall going to his graduation. He remained with Budd until 1961, when he started a job with Boeing Vertol in Phila. that transitioned into a job with them in Seattle in 1976.
Throughout his life I always marveled at how he could live such a normal life undisturbed by nightmares etc. considering what little I knew about what he had been through, but how much more I suspected, and I was right. I know the legacy of grief and regret I feel at friends I lost while flying helicopters for the Army from 1972-94, and the same feelings my brother has for the friends he lost in Vietnam. Memorial Day weekends are not a good time for me. On the rare occasions that my father would say anything general on the subject of WWII, it was always something like "I am glad I had the experience, but I do not want to repeat it." I am especially in awe of his decision to volunteer for Guadalcanal. He had to know what a shitstorm he was getting into, and the 4 fellow Hornet survivors who went with him that I have communicated with have confirmed my suspicion they were part time Marines, ammo haulers/handlers, small boat coxswains, and general jacks of all trades for the Marines for the first month they were there, sharing the hardships and risks of daily Marine existence. The experience included getting shelled by Jap cruisers and a battleship near Henderson Field, which he did mention very briefly once. To volunteer for that mission, knowing as he did that "we were hanging on by our fingernails throughout the fall of 1942", after having a large capital ship shot out from under him, just boggles my mind.
Considering the fact he probably never traveled more that a few hundred miles from home before he went in the Navy, he was as far as I know a peaceful, non aggressive young adult (he played in the band so he could get into football games at Frankford HS in Phila., and as far as I know never played contact sports), I remain amazed that he could get involved in the events and campaigns that he participated in and emerge physically (except for getting malaria at Tulagi) and mentally OK. The info above is only the tip of the iceberg. His reluctance to talk about Guadalcanal and Tulagi, plus what his father told me, is strong evidence that what happened on the ships was nothing compared to whatever transpired there. The search for the details of that history continues, but the chance for success grows less with the passage of time. He and my brother, who did the same thing in Vietnam, will always be my heroes for their willingness to go into Harm's Way, survive it, and come back to lead a "normal" life.
I also remain amazed by my mother's faith that both my father and my brother would return OK. I was not a personal witness to the first, but I was to the second. By then I had a fair idea what my father had been through, and a better than average idea what my brother was going through, and being scared shitless for his safety for a year was not fun. She maintained throughout her life that she was sure my father and then my brother would return OK. I chalk it up to female intuition. I gave up telling her about most of the close calls I discovered for my father and his ships. I would have had a difficult decision on my hands if she were still alive to consider telling her he volunteered to go to Guadalcanal. But there is no doubt in my mind that her faith, love and prayers helped motivate him to stay alive and ultimately return home. An ironic twist on her intuition, a few years before she died she told me she did not have the same optimism when I was on orders for Vietnam.
All of his souvenirs were inadvertently lost or disposed of when my parents sold their 1121 Dyre St. home in Philadelphia in 1988. Fortunately his metal box with his ribbons etc. were in Seattle. I also have his army blanket with his name embroidered in it, some Navy eating utensils, his utility knife, and the binoculars he used on watch and gunnery duty. I also have his "bos'un whistle" that his Hancock crew mates tell me he could actually use, apparently a rare skill in those days. In hindsight, that he allowed that stuff to get away from him was the first indication he was not well. The bell of the Hornet, removed before its departure, now at Bldg 6-26 at Pensacola NAS.
When my father and our family would take our annual Ocean City NJ Flying Saucer boat ride from the early 50's thru 1958, once the 3 1500 HP Packard aviation engines were at full roar and the boat was doing 50+mph and throwing a huge wake, he would squint his eyes, get a faint smile on his face, and I think look off to the Far Horizons that only he could see, to a time that he felt only he could understand. For lack of a better word I called this "The Look" in my own mind. I never had guts enough to ask him to share his visions with me, and the roar of the engines would have made it impossible anyway. Late in high school we went to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for Armed Forces Day. We found ourselves not far from a moth balled Essex class aircraft carrier, exactly like the Hancock once looked. He stopped for awhile to study the ship. The Look appeared. I could not resist the temptation, and asked him something like "Are you sorry you got out?" (of the Navy). It took a few minutes, but then he slowly nodded, and said something like "Your mother could not have handled it" (I assume separations and moves). I wish I had just asked him to tell me the entire story of WWII right there, but for whatever reason I guess I figured the time was not right. His love of ships and airplanes never went away. I wish I could have taken him flying or gotten him a fast boat. He would have loved either or both.
Norman E. and Dorothy J. Branyan were both members of our Greatest Generation, very similar to millions more very much like them. They both answered the call of our country, and did not avoid their perceived duties. I will always be proud of them. I was honored to have them as my parents.
Page published Dec. 5, 2007