With the sneak attack on our fleet, the Japanese opened hostilities against America on December 7th, 1941. Yet, back then, this was not the first aggression of theirs upon our navy.
Before they bombed us at Pearl Harbor, at least two of our naval vessels encountered the Japanese in aggressive maneuvers, each at a different time, once on the Yangtze River of China, and once on the open sea. Aboard ship on both occasions, was Victor Reynolds, a boatswain's mate and gunnery assistant from Peoria, Illinois, an eye-witness to history. 1
I had first seen and heard Reynolds when he spoke at a veteran's event at a school in Peoria, and months later, I sought him out, to speak with him. My wife Serafina and I met him at his home with his wife Lucille. Their granddaughter Kelsey was helping her Grandpa, and affectionate to both her grandparents. Before I took leave of them, we also met their daughter Molly who came to fix them a meal. On another occasion, we also met another daughter, Terry, who had came to provide a meal. 2
BM 2/C Reynold's story is part of the broad mosaic depicting our country's great conflict with the belligerency of the Japanese Empire during the 1940's. His experience and that of his ships were among the first pieces of the mosaic to be set in place...on the eve of war, just before.
It was November 25th, 1941, and the USS Wake, was tied up at a pontooned causeway at Hankow (present-day Wuhan), on the Yangtze River, deep in the interior of China. The Wake was ordered to proceed down the Yangtze to Shanghai, a considerable distance downstream. The next day, on Nov. 26th, as they were making preparations to get underway, they went to general quarters when Japanese marines advanced down the causeway, taking up positions with machine guns on the starboard side, fore and aft of them. It appeared to Reynolds they are going to board them. The soldiers of Nippon wouldn't let anyone dockside, to throw off the lines. The sailors on the Wake were on alert, battle ready
When they had enough steam up, Chief Boatswain's Mate Rawlings took a fire ax and chopped the mooring lines. Their ship drifted away from the dock, and started to make headway. Two Japanese destroyers pulled up on their port side, to hem them in. But the Wake defied their maneuver. Reynolds was at the helm, and the Captain told him to go between the destroyers. Reynolds steered the Wake between the warships, made a 180-degree turn and headed downstream for Shanghai. While the actions of the Japanese were aggressive, and a clear interference by their military1, they didn't fire upon the American vessel.
They were traveling coastward on longest river in Asia, flowing about 4,000 miles out to sea. On the evening of the 28th, they reached Shanghai, where he saw military forces in the process of leaving. He was transferred aboard the USS Luzon, with others of his crew, and early the next morning they headed out to sea, with another flat-bottomed river gunboat, the USS Oahu. On the Luzon 3 (below), part of its deck was only six feet above the water's surface.
On the morning of the second day out, numerous Japanese bombers flew over them on a north-south course, at a low altitude. That evening, off Formosa, Reynolds was again on wheel watch and at the helm, when they encountered a column of Japanese warships. It looked to him as if they are passing through the whole fleet, a force that would later attack the Philippines, Hong Kong and French Indochina. A Japanese destroyer left formation and approached the Luzon; the destroyer was at general quarters. Confronted with this, the Luzon sounded general quarters, readying for battle. The Japanese vessel trained her guns on the Luzon, and Luzon responded in kind. In part, it was 5-inch Japanese guns against 3-inch American guns. In this respect, the Americans were outgunned.
The destroyer pulled alongside, and flashing its lights, it signaled the Luzon, "To turn around and proceed back to your previous anchorage." Reynolds, speaking with a sense of respect and admiration for the admiral aboard the Luzon, remembered what happened. Undaunted and with no hesitation in his voice, Admiral Glassford of the Yangtze Patrol told "Hump" Campbell, the Chief Quartermaster, "Mr. Campbell, send the following message: 'We are proceeding on our present course, at our present rate of speed. Bon Voyage.' " At the wheel, Reynolds held their course.
Reynolds thought that the Japanese were going to open fire and sink them, but the destroyer returned to its formation. He later thought that maybe they didn't want to tip the Americans off, to their plans for Pearl Harbor.The courage demonstrated in this incident, and with the Wake on the Yangtze, even though small actions, were proud moments in the history of the United States Navy. Reynolds was not only a participant in these moments, but he was hands-on, steering the American vessels.
It was the 30th day of November, and already the Japanese First Air Fleet, a carrier strike force, was heading for Hawaii. Departing on Nov. 26th, they had been en route four days. Negotiations between Japan and the U.S. were going on, and if successful to Japan, the understanding was that the fleet would turn back. In the meantime, they continued their course over the ocean, toward that fateful day beyond the horizon. In a figurative way, dark and ominous clouds of war were moving across the Pacific.
The next morning, as the Luzon rounded the tip of Formosa -- and as if forecasting the storm about to break, far to the east -- they ran into a storm of their own, a typhoon that blew with winds in excess of 100 mph, roughing the sea with waves 30 to 40 feet high. Reynolds said about 40% of the time the boat's propellers were out of the water. One time their sister ship the Oahu, rolled sideways, tipping it 49 degrees, when another wave washed into her, pushing the ship back from this frightful angle. They radioed an emergency to the Naval Command in Manila, and the Navy sent out several ships to help them. They finally emerged from the storm and steamed into Manila Harbor, anchoring on December 6th, 1941. A Manila newspaper called it The Most Daring Sea Voyage of Modern Times. Back in the U.S., across the International Date line, it was Dec. 5th on the calendar. It was one more full day of peace, before the coming storm made landfall at Oahu, the namesake of the Luzon's sister ship, so buffeted by the typhoon.
On Dec. 8th, Philippine time, Reynolds was asleep on deck, on the back of the ship, when a commotion awakened him. A Lt. Commander came running, yelling to darken the ship, breaking the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. The storm had broken over Hawaii!...and with it, the thunder of war, leaving death and destruction. The day of infamy !
1. Prior to this, the Japanese ships would try to escort them, but the American sailors would steam ahead leaving them behind. You might say the Wake left them in her wake.
2. Although Reynolds was told he's never have children because of what he'd gone through as a prisoner, he had six: three sons (Denny, Kevin and David) and three daughters (Molly, Terry and Sally). David, now deceased, served in Vietnam Nam and was a victim of Agent Orange.
3. Picture from the internet, taken from off the computer screen. The picture of Reynolds in his naval uniform, was photographed from a picture Reynolds has in his home.
Copyright © 2006 - John Riedell - All