U.S. WARSHIP LAUNCHED BY KEADUE WOMAN
USS Bayonne was a Tacoma-class patrol frigate, built for escorting supply convoys and for anti-submarine warfare. Commissioned towards the end of World War II, she served also in the Korean War. With twin-screw engines she was fast and manoeuvrable – for her day. Her overall length was 304 ft. (93 m.). With 16 mounted guns of varying calibre, 8 depth-charge projectors and an anti-submarine mortar launcher, she was equipped to do battle with the enemy – in the air, on the surface or submarine. She had a crew of 16 officers and 175 men.
When USS Bayonne’s keel was laid down in May 1943, German U-boat submarines were daily attacking Allied convoys bringing essential war supplies across the Atlantic to Britain and to Russia. Many ships were sent to the bottom. The U-boats were active all the way to the east coast of America, even to the Caribbean. No one could predict when the ‘Battle of the Atlantic’ would end. In fact, it continued until the German surrender of 7 May 1945.
USS Bayonne was built by the American Ship Building Company in Cleveland, on Lake Erie. She was launched on 11 Sept.1943, in the presence of the Mayor of Cleveland, the Deputy Mayor of Bayonne, dignitaries from both cities, federal officials, shipyard management and workers numbering about 1500. The Bayonne city authorities were pleased that, for the first time, a warship was being named for their city. It would enhance the city’s prestige. They resolved to foster a strong bond between the city and the ship.
Graciously, they invited Hannah Gallagher to be the ship’s sponsor, giving her the honour of launching and christening the vessel. Hannah’s husband, Hugh, was foreman at Bayonne’s Department of Public Works. Their sons, John and Bernard, both lieutenants in the Air Corps, had given their lives in the service of their country.
John, aged 28, was one of a crew of six who were killed, on 8 June 1941, when their Douglas B-18 bomber crashed to ground, in a lightning storm,15 miles east of Lyman – a small town in southwest Wyoming. They were about 100 miles out on a 1250 mile flight from Salt Lake City to Chicago. It was the second leg of a three-leg navigation training flight from Boise, Idaho, to New York. John was going home on furlough.
Before taking off, the pilot, Capt. David Motherwell, received reports of a heavy cloud cover and foul weather over the Rockies. He filed a plan to fly ‘on instruments’. Pilots routinely flew ‘on instruments’ when they had no visual contact with the ground below or the horizon. In doing so, they followed Instrument Flying Rules (IFR). Motherwell was rated an excellent pilot, experienced in foul weather flying and trained in IFR. But, in the days before radar and satellite navigation, when aircraft instruments and radio systems were primitive and unreliable by today’s standards, it was not uncommon for pilots, flying on instruments and lacking any visual reference outside their cabins, to become disorientated and stray off course, especially in turbulent air conditions. Aircraft were not then designed to fly above all storms.
An investigation failed to establish the precise cause of the crash. There was evidence that the weather was worse than forecasted, with multiple lightning storms rolling off the Uinta mountains (peak 13,528 ft.). There was speculation that the storm encountered may have been of such intensity it forced the pilot to descend below the cloud ceiling, to seek a visual contact with the ground, and that, in doing so, he had an inadvertent ground collision. An examination of the wreckage showed that the aircraft hit the ground at high speed and at a steep angle. The undercarriage was not lowered and wing-flaps were not extended, indicating that an emergency landing was not being attempted.
Nine months later, on 24 March 1942, Bernard, aged 25, was killed when his primary trainer bi-plane, a Boeing-Stearman PT 13 A, crashed on its approach to the runway at Perrin Field, near Sherman, in northern Texas.
Bernard was a flying instructor. He was on a training flight with Aviation-Cadet Theodore Dimke, who had the controls. They were flying in formation with two other aircraft, at an altitude of 500 ft., and were banking sharply to line up with the runway. Due to a momentary lapse in concentration, Bernard’s plane came dangerously close to the lead plane. There was an abrupt use of the controls, to make a correction. This caused the plane to stall, invert and fall away. Although it was successfully righted before it hit the ground, it had insufficient altitude and speed to avoid a ground collision. It burst into flames on impact.
Eager to serve their country in time of war, John and Bernard volunteered for the Air Corps. John was an acclaimed athlete at Bayonne High School and St Peter’s College, Jersey City. Prior to joining the Air Corps he was an associate of Howard Hughes, the noted movie maker. Bernard was a football star at Bayonne High and St Peter’s. From there he went to George Washington College, Washington D.C. He matriculated for the John Marshall College of Law, Jersey City, but instead of a career in law he chose to join the Air Corps.
Bernard received his commission as a second lieutenant on 07 March 1942, only 17 days before his tragic death. His childhood sweetheart, Jean Mary O Connor, travelled to Texas for his graduation and to become his wife. Following the graduation ceremony the couple were married by Father Brinker. Jean was at the airbase when Bernard lost his life, only days later.
The launch of USS Bayonne was an occasion of mixed emotions for the Gallagher family. Hannah struck the champagne bottle against the prow of the ship, saying: “I christen thee Bayonne and may God bless you and bring you safely back to port.” There was a loud cheer as the vessel splashed into the water. The shipyard band struck up ‘Anchors Aweigh’. Among those present was Hannah’s brother, Jimmy Sharkey, a mines inspector from Triadelphia, West Virginia. After the launch, Hannah was reported to have said: “It was a great experience for me. I wasn’t a bit nervous. I only wanted to make sure I broke the bottle and sent the Bayonne off to a perfect start in life.” On the following day, Sunday 12 Sept. 1943, about 2,500 people with marching bands paraded through the streets of Bayonne, watched from the sidewalks by a crowd estimated at 25,000. There were eloquent speeches in support of the war effort.
After the launch, USS Bayonne was brought to Baltimore for fitting out. Her crew was trained and sea trials were undertaken. She was commissioned on 14 Feb.1945 and soon afterwards went into service. However, to the regret of her commander, Elmer E. Comstock, she had no encounters with the enemy prior to the German surrender of 7 May 1945.
In the summer of 1945, she steamed through the Panama Canal and north to Alaska. There, a Soviet crew was trained in her operations. On 2 Sept.1945, the day Japan surrendered, she was handed over to the Soviet Navy under ‘Lend-lease’, an international agreement whereby the U.S. loaned war material to the Allies. The Russians returned the ship in 1949 and, when the Korean War broke out in 1950, she was recommissioned in the U.S. Navy.
On 15 Sept.1950, she was one of 261 ships participating in the amphibious landings at Inchon, Korea, where 75,000 United Nations troops went ashore. The invasion was a military success and was followed, two weeks later, by the capture of Seoul, the Korean capital. USS Bayonne was active in Korean and Japanese waters for most of the war and was awarded six battle stars for her service there.
In Jan.1953, she was loaned to the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force. They returned her for disposal to the U.S. Navy, in the mid-1960s. In March 1968, seven years after Hannah’s death, she was brought out to sea from a Japanese port and set up as a target. There, she was holed below the water-line and disappeared beneath the waves. She lies forever at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Hannah Gallagher (nee Sharkey) was a native of Keadue, where she was known as ‘Hannah Eoghain Andy’. Her husband, Hugh, was from nearby Glenahilt, where he was known as ‘Hughie John Chonaill’. Both received a primary education at Keadue School. They married in St Mary’s Church, Kincasslagh, on 28 Feb. 1911. The celebrant was Fr. Hugh Maguire and the witnesses were Hannah’s siblings, Edward and Mary Sharkey. The Census of Ireland, taken on 2 April 1911, recorded Hugh and Hannah, married though still residing at their respective parental homes. Soon afterwards they emigrated to Bayonne, where many from West Donegal had settled.
In the early 1920s, Hannah made an extended visit to Keadue with her four children – John, Beatrice (‘Delia’), Bernard and Hugh Jnr. During their vacation, the children attended Keadue School, which was next door to the Sharkey home. It would appear that Hugh Snr. joined the family in Donegal, as immigration lists for the Port of New York record all members of the family arriving there, on 14 June 1924, by ‘SS California from Londonderry’.
After the launch, Hugh and Hannah resumed normal living. They continued to mourn the loss of their sons. Hannah, a woman of faith, laid her grief at the altar. Their daughter Delia, a teacher, joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph and took the name ‘Sr. John Bernard’, in memory of her brothers. On 14 Feb. 2001, many years after her parents’ deaths, Sr. John Bernard was guest of honour at a re-enactment of the commissioning of USS Bayonne. The commemoration was organised by the Bayonne Flotilla 2000 Committee. Present were – politicians, city officials, members of the Coast Guard, clergy, surviving Bayonne crew members and members of the Gallagher family. Present also was Hannah’s grand-nephew, Andy Logue of Kincasslagh, who had served with the U.S. forces in Korea.
Sr. John Bernard (1915-2005) visited Keadue and Glenahilt on a number of occasions, staying at her parents’ ancestral homes. There, she was warmly welcomed by family relations and the local community. At Glenahilt, she enjoyed especially the still beauty of the lakes and morning walks to St. Columba’s Church. Danny Sharkey, her cousin, interviewed her for Highland Radio. Once, when she and Danny were out and about together, they observed a small plane land on Keadue Strand. Sister got talking to the pilot and recalled that her late brother, John, with many happy memories of Keadue, had expressed a desire, never fulfilled, to fly there one day and touch down on the strand.
In the United States, the last Monday of May is designated ‘Memorial Day’. It is a federal holiday, a day when families and associations gather in grateful remembrance of those who gave their lives for their country. On Memorial Day 2018, as is their custom, family relations of John and Bernard gathered for a memorial Mass at North Arlington Cemetery, New Jersey, and there placed the American flag on the Gallagher grave.
Written by John Sharkey August 2018.
Sources: (1) Wikipedia – USS Bayonne. (2) The Jersey Journal, 12 Sept 1973. (3) Commemorative booklet, ‘USS Bayonne’. (4) U.S. Air Force archival documentation – courtesy Aindriú Ó Searcaigh. (5) Kincasslagh Parish Marriage Register – courtesy Fr. Pat Ward. (6) Census of Ireland, 1911. (7) Family information & photographs – courtesy Mary Yuknis (nee Gallagher), New Jersey. (8) Additional family information – courtesy Danny Sharkey, Burnfoot.
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