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Letters to American History: June '99

Originally published on Published Online: August 11, 1999 
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I've often heard the Destroyer Squadron II accident ("The Point of No Return," June 1999) billed as the U.S. Navy's worst peacetime disaster, yet as bad as it was, it was small potatoes compared to the navy's losses on October 9, 1945, at Okinawa.

On that day, a typhoon swept through the area. The following morning some 220 naval craft (including my subchaser) were on the bottom, the beaches, or reefs of Buckner Bay. Ashore, B-29s were tipped tail over teakettle, Quonset huts had rolled over and over, and all military capability was completely destroyed. Fortunately, Japan had surrendered less than two months earlier.

The U.S. Navy has never made public its losses on that date. I searched the New York Times for several months afterwards and found absolutely no reference to the disaster.

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Craig Mitchell
Caldwell, New Jersey



On behalf of the survivors, kin, friends, and interested parties of the Point Honda Watch, I want to thank writer/photographer Gregory Crouch for a most timely article on the naval accident at Point Honda, California, in the wake of the 75th anniversary and memorial service at Vandenberg AFB.

I am confident that if Mr. Crouch could have exceeded the restrictions on the word limit, he would have added that after the general courts-martial, Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby disapproved by endorsement the not guilty verdicts of two of the division commanders, as well as five of the destroyer commanders. These officers were all tried for "negligence–in suffering vessels of the Navy to be run on the rocks." Secretary Denby's action did not call for a retrial, but it did preclude any claims by the officers from the wrecked destroyers for losses of personal property. Ensign P.E. Howell, who stored a wedding gift of silverware aboard the USS Woodbury, one of the grounded destroyers, submitted a claim for the loss, but his claim was denied because the navy was not held responsible. The commanding officer of the Woodbury, Louis P. Davis, was held personally responsible for the loss of his ship and the resulting loss of Ensign Howell's silverware.

Stan Golowski
Gilbert, Arizona



I enjoyed your excellent article on President Harding ("The Dark Side of Normalcy," April 1999), but it contained one glaring error. While Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall and President of Mammoth Oil Harry Sinclair were jailed in connection with the Teapot Dome Scandal, President of Pan-American Petroleum Company Edward Doheny did not suffer the same fate. The truth is contained in an excellent 1998 biography of Doheny by Margaret Leslie Davis, Dark Side of Fortune: Triumph and Scandal in the Life of Oil Tycoon Edward L. Doheny.

Earl Chafin
Riverside, California

Editor's Note: Mr. Chafin is correct that Edward Doheny was, in fact, acquitted of the charge of conspiracy to defraud the government.



I enjoyed your June 1999 issue enormously, including the Ty Cobb article ("Cobb's Last Stand"). The great baseball player, who retired the year I was born, was one of my late father's heroes.

I grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, where Puritan, the statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens ("The Lady of the Tower") of early church and civic ruler, Deacon Samuel Chapin, was dedicated on November 24, 1887.

The long-needed article on John Hanson (in "Americans") was well done. I once lived in his home town of Frederick, Maryland, where few knew much about him! While serving as commander of Fort Detrick in that city, I included a portrait of our "first president" in the introduction to our briefing for visitors and new personnel. Hanson deserves more recognition for his contribution to American Independence.

Col. G.E. Chapin, Jr., U.S. Army (Ret.)
Columbia, South Carolina



As a Jew and a son of a disabled World War II veteran, I find Congresswoman Rankin's position unethical and indefensible ("The Single Dissenting Vote," April 1999). Her vote was ill-timed and a slap in the face to all Holocaust victims. While she lived in a fantasy world and cast her anti-Semitic vote, millions of people were dying in Europe.

Barry A. Siegel
Dalton, Georgia



I take offense at the story, "DNA Tests Show Jefferson/Hemings Link," ("History Today," April 1999). The reported DNA tests did not show that Thomas Jefferson "almost certainly fathered a child with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings." Only the DNA from Hemings' youngest son, born late in Jefferson's presidency, matched that of Jefferson's paternal grandfather (using samples from descendants of Jefferson's paternal uncle). DNA tests could not pinpoint which Jefferson, or even which generation of the Jefferson family, is associated with the descendants of Hemings' youngest son. It could have been Thomas Jefferson or any of at least two dozen other descendants of Jefferson's grandfather.

Paul H. Blackman
Arlington, Virginia

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