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September 22, 2006
Palermo Man, Veteran Of This War, Tells Of Helen’as Fight 88 Men With 1 Unloaded Gun
Find Selves On Jap Isle
Veteran of 13 major naval battles since Pearl Harbor, J. D. Clinton of Palermo, chief boatswain’s mate of the U. S. navy, today praised the men who are slugging it out in the Pacific with Japanese warships and planes. He had a word, too, for the Cruiser Helena, which went down guns blazing to the last, in the Battle of Kula Gulf, a final act of glory in a glorious career. The chief boatswain’s mate, home on delayed orders to visit his mother, Mrs. Ivy Clinton of Palermo knew about the Helena. He went on her when she was commissioned in 1939, as a light cruiser. He served on her shakedown cruise to Montevideo. He was to know her better in the “way back” battles after Pearl Harbor.

“ Most of the men on the cruiser had gone through a lot together,” Clinton said simply, “She was like a home to them.”
The Battle in which the ship received her death wounds, Clinton said, cost the Japanese nine cruisers and destroyers, when the Helena and her sister ships let them have it in the Pacific might. The Helena took some heavy hits before she began going down. Clinton, a gun captain, said. The gun turrets that had not been knocked out blazed to the last. “ They kept firing until the decks were awash,” he related. “We were not sure, but we think we got the Japanese destroyer that hit us.
“Everyone had a surprising air of coolness when the order came to abandon ship and the men started going over the side. That’s the only reason so many got off.” Thirty five men on the cruiser who were lost are believed to have been killed outright by explosions, Clinton said. When he went over, the water was washing about his feet. The men were wearing their life-jackets. Four hours after Clinton had gone over the side he was picked up by a small boat. Once a destroyer was about to take him and others aboard but Japanese shore batteries opened fire on it and it had to turn back, The men rowed for 12 hours in a whaleboat, going 25 or 30 miles before they landed on a (then) Japanese held island. Eight-eight men, including a captain, reached the far side of the island, going ashore on the coral shoals, as far away as possible form the Japanese positions. The clothes were covered with fuel oil. The poured cocoanut juice into their eyes to get it our and drank the juice to quench their thirst. “I dug a hole in the sand, put palm branches over me and went to sleep.” The Palermo man recounted. “I hadn’t slept for two days.” The men had no arms except one rifle, found in a whaleboat. They stood half hour watches, two men on a watch. About 3:30 a. m. Clinton thought he would look at the rifle and ascertains whether it was loaded. “Imagine our surprise when we found there were no shells in it.” He said.
Next day a destroyer picked up the men, while another stood by, its guns trained to protect the sailors from a party of Japanese moving upon them from the other side of the island. When the Japs arrived, the Helen’s survivors had been evacuated. The Palermo man said that in thirteen months of service, he had leave only during two weeks when the cruiser was at its base. Asked what the men on Uncle Sam’s fighting ships in the Pacific think of the progress of the war, he said: “They know its not easy, but that we’re doing a better job than the Japanese are.” Clinton, who entered the service May 15, 1935, after graduating in 1933 from Oroville high school, started as an apprentice seaman. He has had six promotions since. He was a catcher on the Oroville High school varsity base ball teem and played half back on the football team. He will report at Bremerton, October 11, for further assignment.

Stu’s Notes: September 19, 2006, PG&E came out to our Building site and marked the underground utilities so that they can come out and drill the holes for our sign. It will go up soon. The sign painted by Fred Daley will say “Future Home of Oroville Veterans Memorial Park”. We are on the way to a long sought dream. Our POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony went well. The turn out for this very solemn event was sad. A lot of effort goes into doin this and we will continue even if only 1 person comes. Let’s hope for more next year. We will see some of you at the Salmon Festival this Saturday. We will have a booth on Bird Street and Myers Street. We will be there from 10:00AM until 4:00PM.