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.
THEY LIKED THEIR SHIP
“ 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