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July 29, 2005
De Vol, Navy P-T Boat Skipper, Is Promoted In Mediterranean
Thermalito Officer Takes War Scribe For Memorable Ride
First Lt. Norman De Vol, whose P-T boat, “Red Falcon”, made history in the Mediterranean following the conquest of Sicily, and along the coast of the Italian mainland has been promoted from Lt. (jg) to First Lt. and now has command of his own P-T boats. De Vol wrote of his promotion in a letter to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gene De Vol of Thermalito. He stated that he was stationed on land at present getting good “eats”. “I cook over a charcoal burner. When at sea, I’m back on rations,” he wrote. His Christmas presents were received Dec. 28. He said that he waited until evening to open them and share them with “the boys.”
De Vol, who is recuperating from the flu, saw service off Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy. “The hunting was good,” he wrote. Guarding Allied ship movements, prowling dangerous waters and spying out enemy concentrations are part of the dangerous routine of De Vol and his torpedo boat crews.

Al Newman, war correspondent, who once got to the scene of action on a P-T boat commanded by De Vol, wrote of his trip as follows; “My skipper was Norman De Vol, at 34, the oldest man in the outfit…Just before nightfall we felt our way through sunken hulks of Axis shipping in the battered harbor and then wallowed our way along the coast. It was impossible to make much speed because of our heavy deck load and toward midnight some of it began to break away from its lashings and threatened to bounce through the deck. By dawn we pulled up anchors and headed back for our starting point reaching there some horrible hour after the time we had left the port. “That day preparations were ordered for a possible departure. In the afternoon, a sister craft returned to Sicily with an Axis ship to her credit. You could hear O’Brien’s (another skipper) Irish blood boil with envy. ‘We are going,’ he growled. So we did, and this time the boats were able to reach that nerve shattering, plank busting gait known as planing speed, which make the craft a cross between a submarine and an airplane.

“If you have any guts, a ride on this sort of boat will jar hell out of them. If you have no guts, you have no business on it. The rear of the craft is roaring Packard engines. On deck it bristles with machine guns, light cannon and torpedo tubes. You must hang on with everything you’ve got, for it is like riding a bucking bronco with someone throwing a bucket of cold salt water in your face every two seconds. Nearly everybody is seasick. They told me of one recently transferred officer who was sick on 53 out of 60 missions. But the secret of these men’s heroism, and it is real heroism, is that they carry on when they are sick. Then they fall into their bunks in their wet clothes for a queasy two hour travesty on sleep and hit the deck for another two hour watch. Around midnight in the chart room, I began to feel pretty terrible. A Jewish boy from the Bronx was making a valiant attempt not to be sick all over his charts and not succeeding too well. I went up to the bridge to have a shouted interview with the taciturn skipper, De Vol.

‘They said I was too old for the air force,’ he screamed as the invisible waves rattled our teeth. Once I used to be a mining engineer and once I even taught school. That’s a hot one ain’t it? What do you think of the ride? I suppose you know that, we have dropped out for formation,’ he shouted. So like the Admiral in Pinafore, I went below. There was lighting all around the horizon. Besides the skipper was beginning to sing, “Oh For The Life of a Sailor,” and I couldn’t stand the caterwauling. “By morning the sea had flattened out some and a bad motor had been repaired. Once again we were hitting express train speed, and the executive officer, Ted Culbert from Bedford, N. Y., let me steer awhile. It was very like piloting a racing outboard speedboat and considerable strain. So I gave over to a crew member after half an hour.

“Then the skipper came up, wiped the sleep from his eyes, gave one quick look ahead, and bellowed, “Hard aport. Object dead ahead.’ The helmsman spun the wheel and we stood on our ears but we missed it. De Vol looked astern at it without a word to the lookout or to the helmsman. “Then he went back to singing, ‘Oh for the Life of a Sailor,’ and the high rocky cliffs of Sicily loomed through the morning haze.”

Stu’s Notes:
Last weeks article about Lucy and Luis Prado reminded Oroville Veterans Memorial Park Committee member, Jack Brereton, that his father used to play with Luis and hiked often to Table Mt.

An Old Soldier Dies. General William Westmoreland died at 91. It’s been said he fought well in WWII, highly reguarded by his troops. He served in Korea and 4 years in Vietnam. I believe he served his country well. But not being a soldier I can say no more.