Journal Entry  -  October 6, 1999  -  Day 25

Wednesday Morning Position Report
8:00 a.m., Mountain Daylight Time
Latitude:

13 Degrees, 40 Minutes North

Longitude:

95 Degrees, 11 Minutes West

Days Run:

66.4 Nautical Miles

Speed:

5.53 Knots (Average)  running at reduced speed due to a fixed ETA of October 16 at the Panama Canal

Total Run this Leg:  1,837.7 Nautical Miles
Total Average Speed:  5.27 Knots
Hours / Days This Leg:  348.5 hours, 14.52 days
Distance To Go This Leg:  1,110.1 Nautical Miles
Estimated Time Of Arrival:  7:00 a.m., Saturday, October 16
Present Course:  117 Degrees, Southeasterly
Winds:  Southwest at 10 Knots
Seas:  1 Foot
Swells:  7 Feet from the Southwest
Barometric Pressure:  1010 Millibars
Air Temperature:  80 Degrees
Sea Temperature:  80.5 Degrees
Visibility:  10 Miles
Skies:  Mostly Cloudy
Sea Floor:  Depths beneath the USS New Jersey at this point ranges between 1,950 and 2,080 Fathoms, or 11,700 and 12,480 Feet.

Position:  USS New Jersey this morning has moved well South of the international border between Mexico and Guatemala. On her 117 Degree Southeasterly trackline through degrees and minutes of latitude South, she will soon be on the same parallel with El Salvador, and later, Honduras and Nicaragua.  She is currently 148 Miles due South of the port city of Salina Cruz on the Gulfo de Tehuantepec, Mexico.

Jersey's Massive Firepower For Freedom

As the USS New Jersey's 45,000 ton steel armored shell splashed into the Delaware River on December 7, 1942, she presented the world an image of dominance, strength beyond her numbers, and a universal sense of confidence.

Her performance in World War II proved that image correct, and her subsequent battle stations in Korea, Vietnam and Lebanon reinforced it.

Gunner's Mate First Class Charles P. Thommen, Sr., 77, of Glen Burnie, Maryland, knew well "The Black Dragon's" force capability.  He was responsible for handling one of her twenty, 5 inch, 38 caliber guns.  He's a "plank owner" who began his service aboard the battleship even before she was commissioned on May 23, 1943.

"When we were under attack," he said in a recent satellite telephone interview from Sea Victory, "or when we were bombarding, I had a helmet on with earphones.  I was near mount eight on the port side, a 5 inch 38 gun mount.  As those 16 inchers went off, the whole ship would move sideways," Thommen said.

The New Jersey carries nine 16 inch 50 caliber big guns on two huge turrets on the fore deck, and one turret aft.  In addition, during World War II, she used the twenty 5 inch guns  Thommen manned, plus sixty four 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns in 16 quadruple mounts around the ship, and the sixty four were increased to eighty in late 1943.  Finally, she carried forty nine 20 millimeter anti-aircraft guns when she was commissioned, which were increased to fifty seven during the Pacific war.

That's a lot of muscle

What was it like firing those guns, or being around them when they fired, Thommen was asked.  "One time, I happened to be near mount 10 which was the deck above me, on the port side, and I happened to lift up the mount at the hatch to see what was going on, and mount 10 let those 5 inchers go off and it blew my helmet overboard and I got two busted eardrums with that," he said.

He's able to hear all right today, but the experience was probably not unique to him.  Under fire, or during bombardments, sometimes day and night for weeks, the noise and emotional surges must have kept those young men right on the edge of things.  There wasn't much time for recreation.  There was none.   Nor did the 2,500 men aboard have a lot of time to know each other.  Everyone had a battle station, and stayed there.

"The problem is," said Thommen, "when we were at war, or out there, we stayed close to our own gun mounts.  If we went down below on the ship, and general quarters is sounded, and we couldn't get to our gun place, well, if you opened the hatch during the attack, you could get shot.  If something happened to the ship, you could drown somebody if you had open hatches, so we stayed right in our own division."

Thommen said he even slept near his 5 inch gun mount in case general quarters was sounded.  "I would run right up the ladder to the gun mount, we stayed close, very close to the gun.

"We knew who the other men were, but we were never that close to them," Thommen explained.  "If he was back aft on the stern of the ship, and he was in turret one, and general quarters sounded, he'd have one heck of a time trying to get to that turret ... all the way up forward, 800 some feet farther up, and if general quarters sounded and you were down below, maybe three or four decks, and if they set condition "zebra" - which means secure and lock all hatches - then you better not open one up because you could get shot. "

The Gunner's Mate said they still made a whole lot of friends aboard the ship.  "When you live with the guys like that, you get very close to them, it's like a family.  We just got back from the reunion in Seattle, and we had about 12 men from the 4th division, and you talk to everybody."

What did they talk about?  We didn't ask.  It's their experience, their memories, their glory and their fear and agony.  How can a civilian, a
generation of civilians, know what they know?  Thommen told us of one episode, though, which tells of the things those men saw, and why the USS New Jersey's memory is so valuable to honor.

"I think we were off of Saipan at the time, we were bombarding Saipan, that was the Marianas Turkey Shoot.  Well, we were firing our guns, you know, and we sunk a minesweeper, that was the port side that did that, all of the 5 inch gun mounts, we were using those on the minesweeper. We sunk it.  When we were off of Saipan, you could see the dead bodies floating by the ship as we were bombarding ... and it was a lot of American Marines, their bodies were floating right past the ship ... and we were scared, and I don't think anybody else would tell you that they weren't scared ... but we did the best we could, that's all.

"And I hope we never have to have another one."

Submitted by Bob Wernet onboard the Sea Victory.

 

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