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VAN STOCKUM: Part 1: The Wonderful World of World Wide Web

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The process of learning about history has been made much easier by traveling across the World Wide Web. In the first of a series, facts are found about a father and a shipmate.

By Ron Van Stockum

In conducting research for my first book, Kentucky and the Bourbons: The Story of Allen Dale Farm, it was necessary for my wife, Susanne, and me to travel widely. In the United States, we visited Columbia, Tenn., and Nashville, St. Louis, Defiance. Mo., Columbia, Mo., Cumberland Gap and Davie County, N.C. We also made several trips to France to speak to Charette cousins and to visit museums and archives there.

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Now that my ability to travel is limited, I find it is possible through the Internet to access many of the same sources – and many others besides – while sitting at my computer. Also, it is possible to carry on “conversations” by E-mail, even with correspondents overseas.

I cite a few examples.

First my father, Reginald George Bareham, was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in World War I, July 1, 1916. He was one of the 19,240 British soldiers, the flower of England's manhood, to die on that single day. I was born in Cambridgeshire, England, a week later.

While I had acquired and read many books on this pivotal and bloody conflict, I knew few details about my father's battalion, the 11th Suffolks. Fortunately I was able on the Internet to contact Phil Curme in England, a historian of the 11th Suffolks, who had actually walked the Somme battlefields.

He had access to the records of the battalion, which provided details about their formation, training and movement to France.

One of the best sources for details of the attack of the 11th Suffolks is John Garth’s, Tolkien and the Great War. J.R.R. Tolkien, Oxford scholar, later famous for his Lord of the Rings, participated in the Somme Campaign. One of his closest friends, Rob Gilson, a Cambridge scholar, served as a lieutenant in the 11th Suffolks, the battalion in which my father also served. Garth’s book contains dozens of references to this battalion and to Gilson.

I contacted British historian Garth by E-mail and found him most responsive. He was particularly interested in Allen Barnett, one of five Shelby County Rhodes Scholars, who had been a classmate and friend of Tolkien's at Oxford University and asked if there were any of his papers available here.

I contacted Jack Brammer, political writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader, who informed me that none had been found and sent me his recent column about the Tolkien-Barnett association, which I was able to forward to Garth.

 

Tracking a shipmate

Another example is my experience with the USS Wasp. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, I was serving with the Marine detachment on board the aircraft carrier USS Wasp, then at anchor off Bermuda. In a month or two, I was promoted to captain and assumed command of the detachment.

We then sailed for the British Isles, where we twice loaded aboard 47 Spitfires and twice entered the dangerous Mediterranean to launch them for the relief of Malta. This besieged island fortress had been under relentless attack from German and Italian aircraft. The Spitfire, having saved Britain from the attacking German squadrons during the Battle of Britain, was considered at that time to be the world’s best fighter aircraft.

Shortly thereafter, Wasp transited the Panama Canal and made port in San Diego, where, on June 25, 1942, I was relieved by my second-in-command, Capt. John Weir Kennedy, Jr.

On Aug. 7, 1942, 71 years ago today, the Marine 1st Division landed in assault on Guadalcanal. On Sept. 15, less than three months after I had departed, Wasp, while providing air cover for the landing of supplies and reinforcements for the beleaguered Marines on Guadalcanal, was sunk by a Japanese submarine. Kennedy was listed among those missing in action.

Lackingknowledge of the details of the sinking, I searched the Internet. There I found a book, DestroyerMan, an account by an officer of USS Lansdowne, John T. Pigott.

 

No sharks in water

As a boat officer, he had made several trips from his destroyer to pick Wasp survivors from the sea. I reached Pigott by E-mail and gleaned additional details about the struggle for survival of those who had successfully abandoned ship. He informed me that he saw no sharks in the water.

In a later tragedy, in 1945 near the end of the War, the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, while sailing alone,was sunk by a Japanese submarine. Out of as crew of 1,196, approximately 300 went down with the ship. Relief did not arrive for days, and sharks were attracted in great numbers. As a result of their deadly toll, and dehydration and exposure, only a third of the 900 who had abandoned ship survived.

Later, I found an account of the sinking of Wasp by a corporal, whom I remembered well as an outstanding orderly for the Wasp’s captain. Then, I found the official “After Action Report,” by the ship’s skipper himself, Capt. Forrest B. Sherman, who had survived and later became chief of naval operations, the top professional post in our Navy.

I still did not know how my relief, Capt. John Kennedy, had perished in the sinking. Was he at my old battle station on the exposed platform on the mast, controlling the ship’s 5-inch antiaircraft guns, or was he resting between watches in his cabin, which I had previously occupied?

Only recently did I locate a Web site dedicated to the “3,000 + World War II Marines who have no known grave.” Here I found a discussion of my association with Capt. Kennedy, along with reference to The Sentinel-News and my column, “A Tale of 2 Aircraft Carriers: Postscript,” of July 13, 1911.

 

How 2 men died

I also learned for the first time how Kennedy had died. He had left his duty station on the mast to go below for a break in his cabin, which once had been mine. One of the three torpedoes that had struck the Wasp exploded just below the cabin, and he never was heard from again.

My college roommate at the University of Washington, served aboard the Hornet at the same time. I finally found mention of his name in an account of the sinking of his ship. He had been killed by an attacking Japanese plane that had hit the deck in his vicinity.

Sea duty in the Pacific, especially in the early days of World War II, was hazardous, indeed.

 

Next: Marine Capt. Don Beck, infantry company commander.