He kept looking--stubbornness was also a family trait, and
in the light of--what they'd done--he needed once more the past to help him
face the future. There it was, an old envelope in the old manila folder. The
letter had been too long for Father to frame it, as he so proudly had some of
the other letters, the tributes--all of them forgotten that horrible day, and
in the long, empty, lonely years since. Ozzie sat down, feeling the yacht
rocking under him as he read:
The Secretary of the
July 2, 1942
Dear Mr. Kingston:
It is my pleasure as Secretary of the Navy to submit to you,
along with the Department’s fullest thanks for your hard work to sustain the
war effort, this transcript of those sections of the report of Lt. Comdr.
Laertes Biddle, U.S.N. (F.D.) concerning the use of your product, the Kingston
Mk. IV, in his ultimately vain effort to save the U.S.S. Yorktown on the
night of 5 June, 1942.
Captain Buckmaster wished to join with Damage Control
officer Comdr. C. E.
Aldrich in expressing their appreciation of Comdr. Biddle’s determined efforts,
and of the utility of the Mk. IV in assisting and prolonging the Yorktown’s
gallant fight for survival. That in the end it proved impossible to salvage
the vessel is by no means a criticism of your company’s creation, which
undoubtedly saved the lives of many of her crew by allowing their evacuation
before the sinking. Below appears the selected portions of Comdr. Biddle’s
report of the final hours of the Yorktown.
After the engagement of 6 May, I occupied myself in the less-frequented
areas of the ship performing such procedures as I surreptitiously could to
assist in the carrier’s repair. The Mk. IV, with which I was acquiring more
familiarity, proved useful in sealing underwater breaches in the hull where I
could do so without fear of detection, and much more so in removing debris
jamming the ship’s mechanisms as the crew sought to restore her to fighting
condition after the bomb hit that afternoon. I spent my time mending ruptured
steam lines and cables difficult of access and, more importantly, of
As the ship neared Pearl Harbor on 27 May, my own efforts
had to cease in order to observe the International Statute of Secrecy. The
dockyard estimate of the time required for Yorktown’s full repair was
three months minimum to return her to fighting condition. My hopes for leave
were dashed when Adm. Nimitz himself expressed to all the absolute necessity of
Yorktown’s immediate preparation for sea and I returned to the
between-decks and interstices of the carrier in my own, necessarily clandestine
effort to restore the ship to combat readiness.
Yorktown sortied on 30 May, with the dockyard workers,
myself and the Mk. IV working to the utmost of our capabilities to assist the
ship in preparation for the new engagement for which the ship obviously was
sailing. By use of resonating fields and vibratory energy, I restored enough
internal clearances to the ship’s boilers, steam lines and turbines to restore
her speed to 30 knots instead of the dockyard’s predicted maximum of 27.
On 5 June the order ‘Air Department take cover, gunnery
department!' signaled the imminence of the first of the Japanese attacks. As
per the Department’s standing orders for its officer-on-board, I had no
assigned battle station, and the requirement of protecting my own person, constituting
as I was the whole of Yorktown’s non-mundane defense. I kept to the
long corridors near the flight deck where I could move in relative safety to
the nearest area of damage in the event of a hit. I had to shift my position
several times as three bombs struck the ship in the course of the first attack.
The great carrier went from a moving, fighting entity of sound and motion to a
hulk drifting in sudden silence as the hit in the forward boiler room cut off
steam power and left her motionless, without electric current for her
communications or the hoists to feed her guns.
I busied myself in once more sealing ruptured fuel lines and
on two occasions actually employing the Mk. IV through the concealment of
another deck to restore steam to the ship’s systems. At no time did the ship’s
mundane crew detect my efforts on theirs and their ship’s behalves. The sudden
eruption of steam to her generators allowed the ship’s fans to begin removing
flammable gas from the ship’s interior, a task I had been doing my best to
accomplish with blasts of wind (the department’s oldest function!) produced and
amplified by the Mk. IV. The Yorktown was able to get back under weigh
at 1540, and was steaming at 20 knots again by 1600.
During some of the ship’s maneuvers in the ensuing combat,
it was possible from the stern at the orlop for the Mk. IV to increase the
speed of the gallant vessel’s increasingly desperate efforts to avoid the bombs
and torpedoes launched against her. I have only the highest praise for the Mk.
IV, I have never encountered anything approaching the magnitude of its sheer
directable power under the burden of need. There were several efforts during
that afternoon by the Japanese to locate the ship by atraditional means, the
Mk. IV brushed these aside with almost contemptuous ease.
As the rest of the crew exerted themselves to the utmost, I
had to fight the strictly forbidden impulse to emerge on deck and use the Mk.
IV to brush away the bombs and aircraft attacking us. My oath, if not my
reason, was enough to discourage the desire. One ship (the most important in
the world to me, I was on it!) would not be worth the implications of open
extra-normal combat in the course of this terrible war. Notwithstanding the
vessel’s loss, I cannot speak more admiringly of the ship’s heroic crew, as
they fought off all but two of the last ten torpedo bombers that struck the
ship in the final attack.
The decks literally curled up around my feet as the two
torpedoes launched by those aircraft struck into the ship’s port side at 1620.
The ship again lost power and steering and went silent, with a rudder jammed
hard to port despite the maximum force the Mk. IV could exert against the
jammed mechanism without rupturing the ship’s hull at the stern. I managed to
extinguish several fires, the one in the forward rag locker was too observed by
the crew to allow the Mk. IV’s operation in that area.
By the time I had come to the conclusion that I could not
free her rudder, Yorktown had taken a severe list and I soon had to hold
the Mk. IV with the hand that wasn’t steadying me against the bulkhead as the
ship settled still further over onto her side. It was possible to remove large
amounts of the incoming sea through the agency of the Mk. IV, but without any
immediate way of shoring up the rents in the hull, new water rushed quickly in
to replace what my efforts had removed. I was soon standing with a foot on
the hatch to a storage room as the ship’s list neared 30 degrees.
From the forbidden world above I could hear the repeated
order to ‘ABANDON SHIP!’ as Captain Buckmaster intelligently took action to
save his crew while the salvation of his ship remained doubtful at best. I
could hear men jumping into the sea from the flight deck and the rafts
splashing into the water as Yorktown settled and accordingly I redoubled
my own efforts to keep the ship from dragging her brave crew down with her.
About a half hour after his order, Captain Buckmaster found
me approximately midships as I did the best I could to bend torn sections of
the ship’s hull up and into the hole left by the forward torpedo. It is
necessary even at such a crisis to do work that the mundane personnel in the
dockyard will not find inexplicable—given the ship’s survival and barring a
chance later to ‘fix up’ the repairs to obscure the means by which they were
Captain Buckmaster explained his decision to abandon the
ship and told me of his own search for wounded before he could bring himself to
abandon his command. I was able with the Mk. IV to locate a compartment with
five survivors trapped within for the ship’s commander to rescue. Buckmaster
generously offered me my own chance to leave the ship with him and these
remaining men. I responded that with the rest of the crew leaving, I could
employ my skills to the fullest and that just then would be precisely the worst
time for me to leave the ship that I was sworn to protect while I could. He
looked puzzled, but satisfied, when I told him that at need I could make my own
way unassisted back to Pearl Harbor.
I passed that long night of 5 June doing my very best to
restore the vessel—torn between my growing fear that she would capsize on top
of me and my growing confidence that the Mk. IV and my efforts to save the
great ship were in fact beginning to stop, perhaps even reverse her list. It
proved more easy to clear and seal the ship’s inner compartments than the ones
actually against the hull, the Mk. IV proving more than equal to first thrusting
literally tons of water out of the ship, then welding shut the holes and
ruptured seams by which that water sought to re-enter the previously flooded compartments.
I could feel the ship starting to shift back towards an even keel, which
encouraged me enough to resist, to some extent, my own growing fatigue.
I had ventured to the Chiefs’ mess in hope that some food and
drink could be found as I struggled through the darkness in the bowels of the
ship. I so wanted even a cup of cold coffee… Consider, if you will, some of
the handicaps under which I had to work. It was a cold night and I could not
see. The Mk. IV was capable of producing tremendous amounts of light, which I
dared not employ, in the fear that it would be seen from the destroyer still
hovering near the ‘abandoned’ carrier. Such illumination would, even under the
best of conditions, draw sailors back on board the ship to answer the presumed signal
and assist their comrades supposedly in need. I neither needed rescue nor
wanted the interference, just then—until I heard the sound of one wounded
sailor banging on a jammed hatch as he tried valiantly to assist a shipmate
back to the main deck.
I am fairly proud of my efforts to aid the two men—I managed
to clear the debris from in front of the hatch that had blocked their escape,
making the sudden movement seem as if it was an incidental shifting of the
fallen material that, coincidentally, unsnapped the bent dogs. Before the
hatch opened, the Mk. IV easily punched a hole in the overhead through which
the one sailor could assist the other back to the deck, and I soon heard a
machine gun firing as the less-wounded sailor signaled, successfully, U.S.S. Hughes
and secured his and his—mortally, it proved—injured companion’s rescue.
A thick layer of carbon entirely obscured the end of the Mk.
IV by the time physical fatigue and hunger—I had never gotten my rations—overcame
me and I sprawled on a flag locker somewhere not too far beneath the ship’s
bridge. I woke to the sound of footsteps and voices as Captain Buckmaster bravely
led a party of sailor volunteers aboard in his own final effort to salvage his
wounded ship. I did what I could to assist them, loosening at a distance the
bolts securing a 5” gun to its mount as the men sought by jettisoning that to
restore the vessel’s trim and pump out the water I had not been able to get to
in the course of that night’s labors. There were once more the sounds of men’s
voices and whirring machinery in the place of the deathly silence or groans of
strained metal that had been my only companions since the last two sailors’
For one, glorious hour—I thought we could all save her.
The sailors had run cables from U.S.S. Hamman, now
alongside, and were using those to power pumps removing still more water from Yorktown.
At sometime after 1530 I felt the impact of two torpedoes—one about where I had
passed my few hours of rest that night—into the ship’s starboard side, causing
part of the flight deck to collapse into the structures below.
I could hear the screams of men injured on the decks above
me, and once more faced the eternal dilemma of revealing myself to give aid and
seek vengeance, or to continue in my sworn, covert duty to preserve the vessel
herself for further action. I personally believe that the Japanese geomancers
had managed to find the ship during my brief slumber, and had guided the Yorktown’s
final attacker to her. For that mortal failing of my strength, I feel a
lingering, if admittedly irrational, guilt.
My deliberations were cut short by the thunderous explosion
from beneath the water of Hamman’s depth charges. I had not realized in
my position far beneath the decks that the destroyer, too, had been hit and
sunk by a torpedo from what turned out to be a Japanese I-Boat. The enemy
submarine had been dispatched, as per their custom, to the scene of the major
fleet action of Midway in which Yorktown had played so valiant a part.
The smaller ship’s sinking led to still further damage to the great carrier,
nearly tearing the foremast off of her and ripping still further gaps into the
Once more I heard the crew of the Yorktown leaving
their ship’s deck as the ship began to settle—I had no chance to report so much
as my survival to Captain Buckmaster, who had his own hands full with rendering
aid to his wounded and trying to evacuate his volunteer salvage crew to the
surrounding destroyers. These vessels were then, understandably, engaged in
trying to find the submarine that had dealt the stricken carrier this final
horrific blow. I was not in the best of condition myself, but if Yorktown
was not yet ready to abandon the struggle for existence, no more so was I, and
I rallied myself again to try and salvage her. I understand that Captain
Buckmaster believed that I had perished in the submarine’s attack and so
informed the Department. I had no knowledge of that misapprehension as I once
more plied the Mk. IV within the ship’s groaning hull.
At first I thought it was the delirium of fatigue, after
about two more desperate hours of renewed water-pushing and rent-patching, the
Mk. IV continuing its own sterling performance while I crawled and blasted my
way through the debris filling the Yorktown’s passageways. But when I
held the Mk. IV, there was no denying the still, quiet words forming behind my
Thank you for staying with me. It has been pleasant to
have company at such a time. You should leave me, now.
“Who are you?”
You know. I am going to turn over and sink, soon. All
my lower compartments are rupturing, and I am losing buoyancy quickly. The sea
is coming in. Please leave me, as fast as you can. I do not wish to kill any
more of my own.
“I am sworn to stay with you.”
You are a good friend. We are all of us born knowing
that either the sea or the land will someday take us. My sisters have
escaped. I am in agony and cannot hold out any longer. I do not wish to be
the cause of your own death. Please go.
I could feel an almost despairing note and urgency in the
unspoken voice arguing and pleading among my thoughts. As a cold grey light
grew in the air and showed through the rents in the hull and flight deck, I
made my way to the edge of the flight deck on the side away from the destroyers
and took to the water.
U.S.S. Yorktown capsized and sank at 0701 on the
morning of 7 June, 1942.
Commander Biddle retains possession of his issue Kingston
Mk. IV, and requested that I pass along his personal thanks for the performance
of your creation, and his own individual appreciation for the part it played in
the battle. He has since been assigned to another carrier, and hopes to have
the honor of thanking you in person at the conclusion of his service.
Mr. Rosenwald Kingston
Kingston Wand Works
New Kingston, Pennsylvania
Uncle Larry, Ozzie thought. The old hero had taught him so
much, been such a good part of his life... Particularly then. Saved his life,
too, just now... Where ever shall we be without him and the men with whom he
saved the world?
Ozzie sighed, and carefully put the letter away.