Van Christo: My WWII Military Experience
Albanian American War Veterans (AAWV) Annual Meeting / Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant, Boston/November 12, 2011
A Memento about my own U.S. military service during WWII
I am honored to address this American Albanian War Veterans meeting of which I was a Founding Member back in 1946. At this time, may I ask that each Albanian American veteran present here today to please stand up so I can introduce them and ask in which branch of military service and theatre of war did they serve.
Thank you. I served in the U.S. Navy during WWII as a Petty Officer on board a Destroyer-Escort, the USS Chaffee, DE230, for almost 18 months in the Pacific. During the invasion by American troops of the island of Luzon in the Philippine Islands that was a Japanese stronghold, my ship, the Chaffee, was patrolling Luzon’s Lingayen Gulf, when, on the night of January 23, 1945 at 11:15, a squadron of three Japanese "Betty" torpedo bombers was spotted by the Chaffee’s radar. The order for battle stations was given as the Chaffee readied for attack. Two of the Japanese bombers, or bogies as we called them, disappeared over the horizon, but the third plane made a wide turn back in the direction of the harbor where my ship and other U.S. Navy ships including the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) were present. The captain of my ship ordered the Chaffee to turn towards the oncoming Japanese “Betty” bomber that dropped its torpedo and struck our ship way up forward in the bow. Although the Chaffee sustained damage, there were no fatalities, and the ship was able to seal off the forward compartments.
My battle station was After Steering, so, although I didn’t see the Japanese bomber from my location below decks, I could feel the impact as the ship lurched dramatically when it was hit by the torpedo. At that time, on any vessel over 1500 tons, there were always two locations from which the ship could be guided or steered. The primary location was the Pilot House, or Bridge, that is located at the top on the front of the ship. The secondary location is a facility called After Steering, which is located below decks at the very end (Fantail)of the ship. Upon a loud horn signal from the bridge, the helmsman, or person steering the ship at the After Steering station, immediately engages a clutch, thus assuming both complete steering control and compass course directions of the ship. This feature proved to be very important during the war in the Pacific corridor, as the pilot house was invariably the primary destination and target of all Japanese Kamikaze suicide pilots.
I was very proud that the battle station chosen for me on board the Chaffee was After Steering, as I was only 17 years old, and the youngest sailor on the Chaffee.
Since I didn’t see the torpedo strike our ship from my battle station below decks, some of the above details are taken from the ship’s log of Commander. A.C. Jones, former Captain of the USS Chaffee, that were provided to me by Robert H. Christ , a Signalman on the Chaffee.
On the following morning after the torpedo attack, two officers from the Chaffee boarded the Pennsylvania, hoping to acquire spare parts to make temporary repairs. But when the Chaffee officers came aboard the Pennsylvania, they were greeted like royalty since the crew of the Pennsylvania firmly believed that the Chaffee intentionally intercepted the Japanese torpedo in a heroic effort to save it from striking the Pennsylvania that represented a huge and easy target. But that was not really the case since the Chaffee inadvertently got in the way of the torpedo! However, when our two officers returned from the Pennsylvania to the Chaffee, they also brought back 6 gallons of ice cream from the grateful crew of the Pennsylvania. For this actual wartime encounter between the Japanese torpedo bomber and the Chaffee, our crew was awarded the Philippine Liberation Medal with Bronze Star.
A Joint Reunion of the USS Chaffee and the USS Pennsylvania took place in Louisville, Kentucky, on November 7-10, 2008. Since the Battleship Pennsylvania had a crew of about 3500 while the crew of the Destroyer-Escort Chaffee was only about 200 men, present at the 2008 Reunion were 600 people representing the Pennsylvania while there were only 5 original crew members of the Chaffee present. Nonetheless, on one wall of the huge Reunion dining hall were two mammoth banners with the names of the Pennsylvania and the Chaffee hanging side by side.
There, in a nutshell, you have heard a small portion of my own military experiences in the U.S. Navy during WWII. However, I believe we should have a permanent record of the experiences of all former Albanian-American members of WWII, Viet Nam, Korea, and wherever else they served America in areas of conflict and danger. A good place to begin is to record their names and photographs prominently in each Albanian religious and civic organization so they will not be lost to the generation of new Albanians who will know nothing of their wartime experiences, heroism, and sacrifices.
Finally, we may want to consider removing the word “war” from our organization's official name (American Albanian War Veterans) to accommodate all former Albanian American members of the military who served the United States of America.
American-Albanians have served many times with distinction in the service of America, so we should provide a lasting tribute to them so they will not be completely forgotten.
We owe it to them.
Van Christo, Quartermaster Second-Class (QM2c)
Duties of Quartermasters (QMs)
Quartermasters (QMs) stand watch as assistants to officers of the deck and the navigator; serve as helmsman and perform ship control, navigation and bridge watch duties. QMs procure, correct, use and stow navigational and oceanographic publications and oceanographic charts. They maintain navigational instruments and keep correct navigational time; render "honors and ceremonies" in accordance with national observance and foreign customs; send and receive visual messages; and serve as petty officers in charge of tugs, self-propelled barges and other yard and district craft.
The duties performed by QMs include:
• conduct weather observations;
• determine compass and gyro error;
• compute tide and tidal current data;
• keep logs and records; determine their ship's position by visual and electronic means;
• compute times of sunrise and sunset;
• follow the nautical rules-of-the-road to prevent collisions at sea.