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.
HOW SCRIBE SAW IT
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.
TAKES PLENTY “GUTS”
“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.
ONE FOR THE BOOK
‘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.
DE VOL’S CHANTEY
“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.”
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.