Sunday, August 31, 2014

52 Ancestors #35: Crossing the Line Ceremony

Ancestor Name: Albert Paul DAGUTIS

My husband's uncle, Albert Paul Dagutis, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He enlisted on 14 February 1942 in Baltimore, Maryland, and served on the repair USS Alcor and an attack transport USS Harry Lee before being transferred to the destroyer USS Blue in time for its commissioning ceremony on 20 March 1944.

On the way to the Pacific Fleet, the sailors aboard the USS Blue crossed the Equator on 1 September 1944 at 165 degrees longitude.

The USS Blue crossed the equator at 00000.0N 1650000.0W; map
courtesy of Google Maps

Albert must have participated in a Crossing the Line ceremony because he received a certificate from that ceremony and kept it until he died in 1987. It's in our personal collection now.

The Royal Court of Neptunus Rex receiving lowly pollywogs of the Blue
into his domain and duly initiating them into the Royal Order of
Trusty Shellbacks; photograph courtesy of War Diary of USS Blue
Destroyer 744

For those landlubbers reading along today, the Crossing the Line Ceremony is a maritime tradition that is so old, according to Captain Bob Allan, "that no accurate assessment of its origins" can be determined.

It is a rite that commemorates a sailor's first crossing of the Equator. Ceremonies vary a quite bit but usually King Neptune presides, wearing a gold crown and holding a trident. The cast usually includes Queen Amphitrite and Davey Jones as well as many others. At the end of the ceremony pollywogs and tadpoles -- those who have never previously crossed the Equator -- become Shellbacks.

A pollywog sentenced to the stocks by the Royal Court; photograph
courtesy of War Diary of USS Blue Destroyer 744

In the War Diary of the USS Blue Destroyer 744, crossing the Equator was described as follows:

"Three days after Task Force 58 sortied from Eniwetok, it crossed the Equator. Neputunus Rex and his trusty shellbacks initiated many lowly pollywogs while the ship was in his royal domain of latitude 00-00 degrees. 

Thus, it was a salty group which turned northward the next day to launch the initial assaults on Palau and the Philippines. The opening of the Philippines Campaign in September 1944 was the beginning of combat experience for the Blue."

Newly initiated shellbacks display the unmerciful work of the Royal
Barber; photograph courtesy of War Diary of USS Blue
Destroyer 744

I am a little puzzled, though. His previous ship was the USS Harry Lee. After supporting the North African and Sicily invasions, the USS Harry Lee set sail for Wellington, New Zealand, on 12 October 1943 from Norfolk, Virginia, via the Panama Canal and San Franscisco. I cannot figure out how a ship sails to Wellington from San Francisco without crossing the equator. The Navy muster rolls indicated he didn't leave that ship until some time after 16 December 1943.

Albert Paul Dagutis was the youngest son of Adam Peter and Cecelia (Klimasansluski) Dagutis and was born on 18 March 1920 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. His father died when he was five years old. His mother moved with several of her sons to Hamtramck, Michigan, in time for the 1930 census to be enumerated, but by 1935, they were back in West Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Albert was the only child to graduate from high school.  He enlisted in the Navy on 14 February 1942, just two short months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, at the age of 21. He served with the Navy as a Fireman until 20 November 1945 when he was discharged. He settled in Michigan where at least two of his brothers were living with their wives and children. According to my husband, he never owned a car and took the bus everywhere. He died in Traverse City, Michigan, on 16 February 1987, the year before my husband and I were married. So I never got to meet Uncle Al.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shot down Over Cambodia

On 19 December 1971, Warrant Officer Thomas William Skiles was piloting a Hughes Cayuse Observation (OH-6) helicopter on a bomb damage assessment run southeast of Dambe, Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. The aircraft received intense automatic weapons fire and burst into flames and crashed. WO Skiles' remains were not recovered. His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu memorial.

The Honolulu Memorial is located within the National Memorial of the
Pacific. On either side of the grand stairs leading to the memorial are eight
Courts of the Missing on which are inscribed the names of those missing
from World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam; photograph
courtesy of members Harold and Wanda Blackwell

WO Skiles served with the Air Cavalry Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, known as the "Blackhorse Regiment." At a Blackhorse reunion some years ago, Brig Gen Terry L Tucker, who was a colonel with the regiment during Vietnam, gave a speech about his work on the Joint Task Force "Full Accounting." In that speech he spoke about WO Skiles:

For the past 2 years, I have been privileged to command Joint Task Force "Full Accounting." In that assignment I led 160 outstanding men and women from all services on a mission to achieve the fullest possible accounting of Americans still unaccounted for as a result of the war in Southeast Asia. We conducted over 1,000 investigations and 125 recovery operations and brought home 67 Americans to their families in that 2 years. Let me tell you about one case that I shared with my brother Blackhorse troopers at the July reunion.

In January 1998, we investigated the site of a 19 December 1971 OH-6 helicopter crash in central Cambodia. In March 1999, we excavated that crash site. The recovery team did not find remains of the crew. However, they did find several items of personal effects. Found were a military identification card and part of another card with an unidentified sticker on it. The recovery team could clearly identify the photograph and name on the identification card, but could not identify the sticker on the second card. Upon my arrival, several possible explanations were offered as to what the sticker might be. After listening to their speculation, I opened my wallet, removed my Blackhorse Association Membership Card, and showed them the exact symbol they were trying to figure out. It was a Blackhorse patch.

The crew of that OH-6 was 1st Lt Peter Forame and WO Thomas Skiles, Air Cavalry Troop, 11 ACR, two of the last Blackhorse troopers to die in Southeast Asia. They were piloting an OH-6A scout helicopter on a bomb damage assessment mission southeast of Dambe, Cambodia. They were hit by .51 caliber and .30 caliber machine gun fire and crashed into a tree line. The helicopter exploded upon impact and was completely destroyed by fire in a short time. Two other helicopters attempted to recover Lt Forame and WO Skiles, but were driven off by heavy automatic weapon fire and rocket propelled grenades. With one helicopter suffering extensive damage. After helicopter gunships arrived to suppress the enemy fire, it was verified that the helicopter was destroyed and that there were no survivors. Further attempts to recover the pilots were unsuccessful despite numerous airstrikes on known and suspected enemy positions.

Thomas William Skiles; source of photograph

Thomas William Skiles, my sixth cousin, would have been 65 years old on 31 August had he survived the war in Southeast Asia.

Thomas William Skiles was my 6th cousin. His great grandmother was a Beard. He was born on 31 August 1949 in El Paso, Texas, to William and Dorothy Lou (Warriner) Skiles. On 3 May 1971 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was killed in action on 19 December 1971 in Cambodia. He was married and left a wife and at least one son to mourn his death, likely two. One son has left a lovely memorial to him on