Black Hawk County



Piece Together Harrowing
Drama of Juneau’s Sinking

One of the great dramas of the war – the loss of the light cruiser Juneau and the harrowing experiences of her handful of ten survivors – has been pieced together from scattered sources in navy department files, the Associated Press reported Thursday from Washington.

The final casualty toll in the ship’s loss was 37 officers and 647 enlisted men, either dead or missing in action.

The Juneau was just eight months in service when she was mortally wounded on her second major action in the battle of Guadalcanal, which marked the end of Japanese aggression to the south.

Badly crippled by a torpedo, the Juneau was forced to retire from the action. Later the same day, Nov. 13, 1942, she was again torpedoed.

She sank within a minute.

Among the victims were the five Sullivan brothers, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan of Waterloo, Ia.

When the water calmed after the ship went under, the small group of survivors huddled on and around life rafts, life floats and debris.

A grim night followed, during which several of the group died. The next day sharks attacked, and one man had the skin ripped off one hand by a shark.

That day a plane dropped an uninflated rubber raft about two hundred yards away.

Despite the sharks, Signalman First Class Joseph P. F. Hartney, New Britain, Conn., decided to swim for it.

“The sharks were cowards,” he related later. “All I had to do was kick me feet when they came at me and they were scared away.”

He reached the raft, inflated it and paddled back. He had an idea that land was about 55 miles away and, after receiving permission from one of the injured officers aboard the main raft, decided to make a try for it.

James Fitzgerald, seaman first class of Manchester, Conn., volunteered to go with him.

Lt. (jg) Charles Wang, Philadelphia, a torpedo officer of the Juneau, was badly hurt. Hartney and Fitzgerald put him aboard their flimsy craft and paddled away, with Hartney doing the navigating. Their equipment consisted of the raft, a pump, paddles, a patching kid, a bailing bag and a knife.

They had neither food nor water.

They paddled until exhausted, rested, and then paddled some more.

That was their routine for days, broken by unsuccessful attempts at fishing for food, using Lt. Wang’s shoelaces for a line and his collar pin for a hook. They caught rain water in the bailing bag, which they used as a sea anchor at night.

On the third day they spotted planes, which turned out to be Japanese. They fell flat on the raft and escaped detection.

Then on the same day they saw a low haze in the distance, and knew land was there. They were sure it was San Cristobal island, at the lower end of the Solomons.

Then, on Nov. 20, came a bitter disappointment.

They sighted a PBY navy patrol bomber and signaled it, using the bright blade of the aluminum paddle. The PBY pilot saw them, but before he could come in close, a squall blotted them out.

A terrific storm followed, and for nine hours the men had all they could do to keep afloat. But they won out and when the weather cleared, they were within sight of San Cristobal.

Early the morning of Nov. 21 they grounded on a coral reef. Ashore they found friendly natives who fed them and got word to a white trader on a nearby island who sent a boat for them. On the trader’s island, they signaled a passing patrol plane which landed and picked them up.

A rescue party then was sent after those who had stayed behind. But it never rescued them.

Seven of them finally were saved.

Gunner’s Mate Allan C. Heyn (sic, should be Allen), of Washington, D. C., the sole survivor of a group of 12 who became separated from the others, told how his companions, crazed by the ordeal, fell or dived from their raft to be killed by circling sharks.

“Like travelers in the dessert,” he said, “these men kept seeing mirages in the water. For example, they insisted that the Juneau was right beneath us on the bottom. She was all lit up, they said, with the crew at their battle stations waiting for the Japs. One man announced he was going down for a cup of coffee and some sandwiches.

“On the sixth day, there were three of us left, a boatswain’s mate, a young Mexican and  myself. That was when we got our first food. A seagull lit on the raft and I wrung its neck. We tried to eat it, but only managed a few mouthfuls.

“That night the boatswain’s mate left us. His back had been [Page 18] so badly scorched by the sun that both the skin and flesh were splitting and cracking. He was in real agony. He told us he’d rather swim for land and go down trying than just clinging to the raft. He turned and saw off in the dark as if land were just around the corner. We never saw him again.

“The next night, the young Mexican suddenly cried out he was being stabled. I though he was just having another crazy spell, but when I grabbed hold of his shoulders I saw he was telling the truth. A giant shark was literally eating him out of my arms as I tried to hang on. He screamed once as he went under. His head reappeared for a second and he screamed again . . .

“That night was the longest of my life. The sharks were all around me in the water. Why they didn’t get me I’ll never know. I LIKE TO THINK IT WAS BECAUSE I DID SO MUCH PRAYING AND HAD FAITH THAT MY PRAYERS WOULD BE ANSWERED.

“On the ninth day a navy patrol plane spotted me. The pilot waved, but flew away. It came back two hours later leading a destroyer to me. Aboard ship the doctor said I had a fractured skull, shrapnel in my foot and was suffering from exposure.”

Of the remaining group, there were six survivors, the only ones still capable of paddling their raft after five days under a blazing sun in shark infested water. This group was sighted by a patrol plane which dropped a life jacket containing rations and a message promising rescue.

Leading this group was George L. Mantero, chief gunner’s mate, of San Diego, Cal.

Mantero and Hartney were awarded the Legion of Merit for their “exceptionally meritorious conduct” and the Bronze Star was awarded Wyatt Butterfield, seaman first class of Trenton, N. J., a member of Mantero’s group who, despite weakness and exhaustion, swam, fought off sharks and recovered the life jacket dropped by the rescue plane.

Other survivors were Chief Steward’s Mate Lester E. Zook, Arcadia, Neb.; Arthur T. Friend, boilermaker second class, Oakland, Cal.; Henry J. Gardner, machinist’ mate first class, San Diego, Cal.; and Frank A. Holmgren, gunner’s mate third class, Eastontown, N. J.

Gardner received a letter of commendation for courage in fighting to keep the Juneau afloat after the ship was struck by the first torpedo, risking his own life to descent into the fire room to shore and brace bulkheads.

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Thursday, December 13, 1945, Pages 1 & 18

NOTE: Survivor Allen C. Heyn later stated that one night, aboard the raft, George Sullivan decided to take a bath. As he swarm around the raft, his movements attracted a shark. He never made it back onto the raft. George was the only brother to survive the sinking of the Juneau. All five brothers were awarded Purple Hearts. There are five memorial stones, one for each brother and bearing the transcription “Brother In Arms”, at Arlington National Cemetery.
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