Friday, May 28, 2010

A Salute to our Family's World War II Veterans: Part III

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. –Sir Winston Churchill

This week my father writes about his father’s experience in the Navy during WWII. ---Grace

Bishop Holliman and His War
(1941 Seaman's Photo Right)
by Glenn N. Holliman

In July 1943, the German Army and Italy, its companion in the war, were reeling on both the Russian and Mediterranean fronts. The protracted battle of Stalingrad resulted in the Nazi's loss of an entire Army and many divisions of their reluctant allies. North Africa had fallen to Montgomery and Eisenhower's desert armies by May 1943.

Not yet strong enough to invade France, the British and American leaders next turned their expanding forces to the major island of Sicily, Italian soil. A victory in Sicily might knock Italy out of the war and force Germany to engage on a new front.

Into this maelstrom of war sailed a small destroyer, the USS Butler, approximately 1,600 tons in size. Working at his forward duty station, copying code from distant radio signals, was a young man from Irondale, Alabama - Bishop Holliman, age 23. After a year and half in the Navy, he was about to receive a baptism of fire.

The USS Butler was at sea in 1943. Launched in 1942 in Philadelphia, its top speed was 34 knots. It came loaded with torpedoes, depth charges, four 5-inch guns and anti-aircraft batteries.

The Butler (DD636) was a fighting ship. After the invasion of Sicily, she escorted Royal Navy carriers before returning to New York, where Bishop Holliman was transferred to the USS Barker. In the Pacific in 1945, a Japanese kamikaze detonated a bomb under the Butler that killed nine crewmen. The ship survived, but was decommissioned in the fall of 1945 after only three years of service. But the taxpayers received more than enough value from this gallant lady.

Putting out from Algiers to convoy Allied troop ships to the invasion, the Captain spoke over ship's loudspeaker: "There will be no giving up or thoughts of abandoning ship. We will fight to the very last." Feeling fear and determination, the crew suffered horrible seasickness as the Butler plowed through atrocious weather while escorting American soldiers to battle.

And fight this tiny U.S. ship did, first through air raids as she approached Sicily that July 8th. The next day, the ship shelled German tanks and shore positions at the Gela beachhead, allowing General George Patton's 1st Infantry Division to advance inland with fewer casualties. A few days later, the Butler exchanged fire with German shore batteries at Palermo. The Luftwaffe once again attacked and damaged sister ships.

All the time, Bishop remained at his post relaying coded messages to the bridge. For the young man from Alabama, the continuing war became a blur of convoy duty and several crossings of the North Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. On June 6, 1944, Bishop was at his duty station on his destroyer, now the USS Barker, as she passed through the Straits of Gibraltar. There he intercepted BBC signals announcing the invasion of Normandy. He thought that now at last this long war might soon be over.

No doubt he was comforted by the letters he was receiving from a young southern girl, temporarily located in Pennsylvania, whom he had met while on liberty in 1942. A chance meeting at Atlantic City, New Jersey had led to correspondence, visits while in port, and finally, on June 26, 1945, a wedding in Philadelphia.

The war ended and Bishop and his new bride, Geraldine Stansbery, originally of Bristol, Tennessee, began married life together in Birmingham, Alabama. Three children, eight grandchildren and, to date, seven great- grandchildren have blessed their lives.

Next week we conclude our WWII/Memorial Day tributes with a D-Day article I wrote during a visit to Normandy, France on June 4, 2004. ---Grace

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