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Annual Reunion Minutes

Master of Ceremonies:  LCDR Ives, USN, Ret.
Parade of Colors:  “National Anthem”
Invocation:  Chaplain Hal R. Sessions

Let us pray.  Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we invoke your blessing on this memorial service for those who have served our country well.  As we gather at the Navy Memorial Foundation we offer our prayers, our hearts, and our love for these that we have served with for three score and four years.  What a blessing it has been, not only to have served with them, but to have enjoyed fellowship with them in many of our 30 reunions.  As we share in prayer, song and speech, may it bring comfort and solace to the hearts of all.  We ask these things in the name of our Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, AMEN


   Good morning.  Welcome.  What a glorious day fit for a service here.  I cannot remember a prettier day in Washington in quiet awhile.  Thank you for coming.  You honor us with your presence.  The Navy Memorial was created just for this type of event.  When Admiral Arleigh Burke retired from the Navy as Chief of Naval Operations in the early 60's he set a goal to have such a place as the Navy Memorial created.  He knew that Navy veterans such as yourselves needed a place to come, particularly in Washington DC to remember your service, be honored by the Navy in a ceremony such as we are holding today.  Although those were his thoughts in the 60's, it wasn't until 1987, just 15 years ago, that the Navy Memorial was in fact dedicated.  The Lone Sailor who is standing watch here on the sea, commenced his long vigil here in Washington D.C.
    We have had countless ceremonies here since then and each one is very moving.  Participating in these ceremonies on a regular basis is the Navy Ceremonial Guard who presented the colors to us today.  One of the battle streamers nearest to the Navy flag is recognized as Guadalcanal the spot where your ship was lost.  The Navy Ceremonial Guard are a very special group of people, young people selected from the Navy right after Naval Recruit training.  After completion of boot camp they come here to Washington DC for a 2 year assignment before they go on to further training and on to the fleet.  I am sure that many wives who watched those men march out today, nudged their husbands and said, “See, I remember when you used to look like that!”
    We have a young woman today representing the distaff side of our service, which is about 20% of our Navy who are women and they are doing a magnificent job.  We also have a member of the Navy Band, the finest military band in our country, who will provide “Taps” for you on the bugle.
    You served on a remarkable ship, a ship that had a very short service, commissioned in 1940 and lost in 1942 to enemy submarine torpedoes that hit the vital parts of the aircraft carrier, setting off magazines, setting gasoline fires that could not be extinguished because water mains were lost and the ship consumed itself in a fire at sea.  You are the fortunate ones who have survived and picked up by Navy ships.  The Navy is grateful to you for your service, your country is grateful for your service.  That is why these ceremonies are important to you and to everybody on the Foundation staff that we are able to honor you for your service in this special way.
    Your service to your country in W II was terribly important.  You joined the Navy, many probably before Pearl Harbor, before that terrible day, 7 December, 1941.  We just celebrated another terrible day in our country's history of 11 September 2001 at its first anniversary.  A powerful day with memories to all of us, then and now today, repeating itself.  I only hope that our country has the same fortitude, the same young people ready to step forward as you did in 1940 and 1941 to defend your country against a very real threat.  We need today that same fortitude, that same strength, that same belief in America is all about.
    You proved it in the 40's and I truly hope that we can have the same support from our citizenship today that we were able to muster in the early 40's.  The great unanswered question.  With the example you have set, people just have to see what you have accomplished.  Not only your service in winning that war, but also your patriotism, your loyal support through some difficult times.
    I remember the 60's, I was a junior officer in the Navy, but in downtown Washington we were told not to wear our uniforms.  Why?  Because a uniform was not a proud thing for our country in the 60's.  That has changed and that is good news!  Just a year ago, in an event like this before 9/11, we would to have probably encourage the people who are sitting here to witness this ceremony to stand for the Presentation of Colors and our National Anthem.  Now, they all rose at once!  So our country has changed and I truly hope that it will continue in that direction.  You set the example and I know we are following.  Thank you for being here today, you honor us with your presence and I look forward to meeting all of you after the ceremonies.  Thank you.

OPENING REMARKS:  President of the USS Wasp CV-7 Stinger Club-Hal Sessions
    Rear Admiral McKinney, LCDR Ives, Ladies and Gentlemen and Crew Members of the USS Wasp and those who are responsible for this occasion under the direction of Bob Fulmer and his wife, Vernice.  Sometimes we get the impression that we know nothing of this Wasp group; sometimes we realize yet, on the other hand, that we know everything about them.  Those who commissioned the Wasp in April 1940 and those who came aboard in 1941 and those aboard when she was sunk 15 September 1942, we have known them for at least 60-62 years.  In fact, a lot of us even know why they have nicknames.  “Slap” Gallagher, who was our President Emeritus several months ago, God bless him, now has Lou Gehrigs's disease.  He was called “Slap” because on the ship he played in the Navy Band and also the Combo.He would slap one of those big base fiddles and that's why we called him “Slap” Gallagher.  In fact, two days ago I called him and asked how he was doing.  “Hal”, he said, “I am now down to 135 pounds, but I want you to give my deepest and sincerest wishes to those who attend the Reunion of the Wasp.”
    It's good to be here; in fact, at our age it is good to be anywhere!  When I think of the significance of a memorial service, I am reminded of how it was first begun in the United States.  At first it was called Decoration Day; fathers, mothers, and friends of those service men who were killed during the Civil War gathered at cemeteries at the graves of these men.  They would decorate the graves with little American flags or a vase of flowers.  These were the soldiers who were mainly killed in the Civil War.  It was first observed on May 30th, 1868.  All the graves of soldiers or servicemen were decorated in honor of those who had fallen for this nation.  Presently, the day of May 30th is observed and in this area, a wreath is placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
    From the standpoint of our ship, USS Wasp, we have memorialized 290 men and their spouses in the last five years.  Sometimes the members of the Stinger Club say how do you handle it and I must say I don't.  I am as saddened as much as anyone on the ship by another death of a shipmate or a spouse is reported.  I think one difference is when I was in Seminary over 50 years ago a course was offered entitled “Church Administration”.
    Our professor, Dr. A.W. Martin, God Bless his soul, was lecturing on the conduct of funerals when he paused and said, “Tell them I want you to memorize the liturgy of a funeral.  Then I want you to go and observe at least three funerals; one Catholic, one Protestant, and one Jewish.  I want you to get there about thirty minutes before the service begins.  I want you to introduce yourself to the funeral director and tell him that you are there for the purpose of the observation of the funeral.”  Then he went on to say, “I want you to talk to the people.  I want you to list every scripture that was read, list every hymn that was sung.  Sometimes you will find that a funeral service is more of a blessing and a celebration instead of just a sorrowful experience.”
    In many funerals and memorial services one attends and in the condolence letters written it's these early experiences that need to be kept in mind as we strive to maintain the course of that true spirit.  A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending one of our officer's funeral in Memphis.  The funeral Honor Guard was sent over from Jacksonville Air Force Base in Arkansas.  The Honor Guard and Detail were there to present full military honors to the officer who had died.  As the service proceeded and the flag was folded the captain who came with them shared a few verses of scripture and then proceeded to share with us the meaning of each of the folds of the flag of the United States.
    The first fold of the flag is a symbol of life.  The second fold is the symbol of our belief in eternal life.  The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of his life for the defense of our country to attain a peace throughout the world.  The fourth fold represents our weaker nature; for as American citizens, trusting in God, it is to Him we turn to in times of peace as well in times of war for His Devine Guidance.  The fifth fold is a tribute to our country; for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country right or wrong!”  The sixth fold is where our hearts lie.  It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands; one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.  The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces who protect our country and our flag against all her enemies whether they be found within or out of the borders of our republic.  The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death that we might see the light of day and to honor mothers; for whom it flies on Mothers Day.  The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood for it has been through their faith, love, and devotion that the character of men and women who have made this country great have been molded.  The tenth fold is a tribute to father, for he too has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since they were first born.  The eleventh fold in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen represents the lower portion of the Seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies in their eyes the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  The twelfth fold in the eyes of a Christian citizen represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies in their eyes God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding us of our national motto “In God We Trust”.
    I remember on a few occasions in my hometown, my father would get a piece of pipe that was about three feet long and three inches in diameter and we would take our flag and nail it to a wooden pole that was about ten feet tall and place it in the ground on July the 4th and on various occasions.  Then in the evening we would cut a big watermelon and shoot a few fireworks.  Memorial Days provide, in conclusion, many memories for all of us.  They give us an opportunity to look to the past as well as help us to look toward the future as we search for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for the Lord has blessed us all beyond belief.  Thank you.


ROLL CALL:  Captain “Jack” Mitchell


LAYING OF WREATH AT NAVY MEMORIAL:  Robert Fulmer, Hal Sessions, and RADM Henry C. McKinney


Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm doth bind the restless wave;
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!


JIM BERRY:  I would like to welcome all the Stinger Club members and their guests.  Welcome aboard!  Will you all please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance…I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America and to the republic, for which it stands…one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

HAL SESSIONS:  Let us pray…Our heavenly Father, we thank You for this gathering as we celebrate our 30th reunion.  What a beautiful setting.  We thank You for our hosts, Bob and Vernice Fulmer, who have given their attention and energy in providing this magnificent banquet along with their active committee.  We are also grateful, our Father, for those who have planned and prepared the food and for those who serve it.  Bless our speaker this evening, VADM Weschler, who will be sharing his words of wisdom and experiences and those who participate and express their talent of music and song.  Bless this food to our bodies as it provides nourishment to each of us as we ask these things in the name of the Lord…Amen.

DUFF McDONOUGH:  At this time I would like to introduce the Mt Vernon Community Swing Band, who will play during dinner.  I would like to introduce some special guests:  George Saliba, the Ambassador to Malta and his son Daniel; our old friend, William S. Sessions, (cousin of Hal Sessions and also a Federal Judge in Texas for 14 years) former Director of the FBI and his wife Alice.  At this time I would like to introduce Jack Mitchell, our new President, who will in turn, introduce our Speaker.

JACK MITCHELL:  Our guest speaker tonight is an old friend, who I have known for a number of years since the Wasp.  We were in the first command in staff class at the War college.  We were in and out of the Pentagon together and he is a very fine individual.  It is my pleasure to introduce the husband of Trina Weschler, Vice Admiral Tom Weschler.

    Good evening shipmates, families, and friends!  As we have already noted throughout the last couple of days together, this is a time for some sadness that the torpedoing occurred, that so many were lost or injured, and that the war was made that much harder to win!  But it's even more a time for joy and thanksgiving that we survived, that the war was won, and that we have persevered in useful lives since that shattering event with so many of us here to recall and celebrate our survival!
    Much has been said and written about the WASP and that fateful day, but I'll still offer three observations that may help our memories and our friends understand fully the importance of it all.  First we will put the loss of WASP in its proper setting, showing it was a cause for concern from the White House on down; second, a quick review of the event itself demonstrating diabolical luck at work; and third, taking full recognition of all we, collectively, have done over these sixty years to merit our remembrance by the Navy and our countrymen.  It's been a long day, a fine meal, and there may have been a drink or two along the way, so I promise to be brief.  Here goes!
    Our Navy had changed a lot from WW I to WW II.  The biggest change of all, just coming to the realization of the Navy itself and even later to the general public, was that the day of the battleship was ending and the carrier was the key ship type with its large air group for attack and defense.  The Navy had been developing the carrier from the USS LANGLEY CV-1 in 1922 through the USS WASP CV-7, June 1940 and the USS HORNET CV-8, October, 1941.  On Pearl Harbor Day, 7 December, 1941, we had seven carriers, CV's 2 through 8, in commission.  USS LANGLEY CV-1, had been reclassified as a cargo ship to ferry aircraft to the front, too slow for handling the newer planes.  Of those seven, three were in the Atlantic; RANGER, YORKTOWN, and WASP, while in the Pacific we had SARATOGA, HORNET, ENTERPRISE, and LEXINGTON.  Though many more were building, no other carrier would get in the war until the ESSEX arrived in the Pacific in May, 1943!  It was up to those seven carriers to do the job of stopping the Japanese in the Pacific and aiding Allies to press on in the Atlantic.
    It was immediately recognized that the Pacific war was the US Navy war and the Japanese Navy had to be stopped.  They had shown that they knew how to use carriers to project power.  We had to do it better.  YORKTOWN was immediately ordered to the Pacific.  RANGER and WASP initially stayed in the Atlantic and assisted in the support of the European war through convoy coverage and anti-submarine operations.  In early March 1942, the Mediterranean was being threatened by the German efforts to seize Malta.  Prime Minister Churchill knew WASP had carried the US Army Air P-40s to Iceland to relieve the British air garrison.  He requested President Roosevelt send him means to get more fighter aircraft to Malta.  The President agreed and the WASP was sent to operate with the British home fleet.  Leaving most of her air group in the Orkneys, WASP loaded 47 British Spitfires in Glasgow, Scotland and got them to Malta in mid-April.  The Germans wiped out those planes in about four days, so another shot in the arm was needed.  WASP was sent a second time in early May and did the job just as well.  This time the tide turned and Malta was not again seriously threatened.
    But in the Pacific the war was about to be taken to the Japanese through an amphibious invasion of Guadalcanal in early August 1942.  More aircraft was needed.  WASP sailed from the Mediterranean to the Orkneys to pick up her air group and then to the South Pacific (via Norfolk, the Panama Canal, and San Diego) over 12,000 miles away and ready for battle with a new skipper in vastly different circumstances with radar installed and with a major change in her air group enroute, demonstrating one of the most exciting and concrete proofs ever of the flexibility and mobility of Naval air power.  RANGER alone stayed in the Atlantic and was by November 1942, supporting the US Army's amphibious landing in North Africa, the first step in the invasion of Europe.
    Returning to the Pacific, the five carriers now there with the arrival of YORKTOWN, were constantly busy.  The threat of submarine attack was made clear early with the torpedoing of the SARATOGA in January 1942 and again in late August, though repaired each time to full capability.  It was essential to restore America's confidence by taking the fight to the enemy, which we did with island raids in February and March.  There was the B-25 bombing of Tokyo in April from the secret base of SHANGRI-LA (as announced by FDR, only later identified as the HORNET).  We had to stop the Japanese war machine pressing now for India and for Australia, and then reverse the fight with offensive campaigns for island seizure.  We stopped the Japanese fleet in the South Pacific in early May at Coral Sea, losing LEXINGTON, and then in the Central Pacific at Midway, early June, losing YORKTOWN.  WASP joined just before Guadalcanal.  The seizure of that island group and turning back two large attacks by the Japanese fleet cost us WASP in September and HORNET in late October.  With SARATOGA not recovered from her torpedoing until January 1943, only ENTERPRISE remained relatively untouched!  The Atlantic and Pacific Fleets had one carrier each for those two months.  October until December, the low point of our strength.  So it is clear why the White House and the Pentagon noted each victory or loss of a carrier and why in October through December 1942 it was wise to hold WASP and HORNET survivors in Noumea and not announce the loss of their ships until near Christmas when the situation was improving and finally we could all go home!
    Back now to September 15th.  It's easy to think of the WASP as being alone, but we were a part of a carrier task group with the HORNET, BB NORTH CAROLINA, a cruiser or two and some destroyers (special thanks for that).  As the duty carrier we were providing the daily ASW and AAW patrols.  You remember the early morning first light GQ's (general quarters) and the long times on station until some time through the day when it seemed clear enough to let us sleep or eat.  It was that way on that day, and when the new patrols had been launched and the old patrols recovered, we set condition two- half on and half off watch.  It was routine for the aircraft recovered to be refueled and rearmed immediately so they were ready for any emergency.  That put the fuel system in operation and required some of the armored hatches to the magazines to be open.
    You may not have heard the details, but a Japanese submarine had been on patrol elsewhere and then got intelligence to come over our way.  We were providing particular cover for essential troop reinforcements heading to Guadalcanal, the Seventh Marines.  The submarine captain was just coming to depth to look around because he heard noise in our direction where we were running at high speed recovering our planes.  He saw us heading almost directly away at 25 knots or better, when he could hardly believe his eyes as we turned around and headed toward him!  Soon he figured that if he just lay still he would not be detected and we'd cross in good torpedo firing range.  What bad luck for us!  It worked out as he hoped, and as we crossed he fired a spread of five torpedoes.  The first shot crossed our bow and went on about 3-4,000 yards farther to hit the bow of the DD O'BRIEN, taking it off.  The three center shots all hit WASP, starboard side, near midships to aft.  The fifth shot crossed aft and went on over 27,000 yards farther to hit the NORTH CAROLINA in a double bottom compartment in her stern doing minimum damage-except, as her captain said, goosing her a little extra speed!
    We all know the valiant efforts to save her and how well Captain Sherman maneuvered the ship to keep the flames down and to get out of the oil and gas spread as much as possible.  The fire mains were a shambles and the fires and explosions made rescue difficult.  After an hour with bravery and devotion evident everywhere, the Captain felt it was necessary to abandon ship to save all the lives possible.  This was done in about 45 minutes and the destroyers pressed in to get us out of the water as soon as they could, interrupted frequently by sonar contacts and the need to break off for attacks on possible submarines.  How we hated those depth charges!  WASP was rugged and wouldn't sink by herself so the DD LANSDOWNE was directed to sink her with torpedoes which she did that night.  Individual stories are wonderful to hear and I hope each of you will talk with your tablemates about your recollections of those terrible times.  But note that the Seventh Marines got to Guadalcanal where they were needed and the land battle was insured victory.
    And today, it's 60 years later.  Why should anyone but us remember the WASP and have we done anything to help people remember?  You bet we have!
    First, the ship and her crew in WW II provided a lesson of readiness and devotion to duty.  Mobile sea power could not be better exemplified than WASP's historic shift from Atlantic to Pacific and from one war scenario to another 12,000 miles away without missing a beat.
    Second, we stuck together as a crew for all those 60 years, an example of the mutual respect and friendship that a crew can develop, particularly in time of crisis, and passed these warm feelings along to our families who continue the tradition.
    Third, the example set by the ship WASP and our action as a group, have kept the name WASP alive in the Fleet.  First it was through the ESSEX class ship ORISKANY, renamed WASP CV-18, and in the Fleet from mid-1944 through 1972.  And now WASP LHD-1, lead ship of the WASP class of helicopter assault ships, joined the fleet in 1987 with a total of eight of the class, the last just going into construction.  Some of these will be with the fleet for at least 30 more years, giving us almost a century of WASP named service!
    Fourth, there is the solemn and fitting granite memorial and plaque to those lost in WASP at Fort Rosecrans, Point Loma, San Diego, California where we often meet for services.
For the living, the great eight foot model of WASP, which we had built and paid for through volunteer donations, installed in a place of honor at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola (Florida), with our Honorary President Shipmate Admiral Mickey Weisner on hand, he also being the Chairman of the Museum.
    And finally, some of our shipmates' lives grabbed the attention of others leading to three Navy ships or places honoring WASP sailors-in 1943, Shea Field at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station, South Weymouth, Massachusetts in memory of our Assistant Air Boss LCDR J.J. Shea; in 1952 the FORREST SHERMAN class destroyers named for our second captain, Admiral Forrest Sherman, later Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) (though all those ships have by today been decommissioned, the FORREST SHERMAN still survives and a group are still trying to save it as a memorial); and just this year, the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS MCCAMPBELL, named for our Landing Signal Officer and later Navy ace, Lt. Dave McCampbell, has joined the Fleet.
    In every one of these ways, people know and respect the name WASP.  So, 60 years later, it's not the torpedoing people remember.  It's the ship and her crew and her accomplishments and the spirit that are remembered!  Let's renew our own pride and give three cheers for our great ship WASP!

(Applause and standing ovation…)

JIM BERRY:  In appreciation for your participation tonight, let us present this to you.  You may want to put it on your desk.

TOM WESHLER:  Thank you, Jim.  I am honored to have it.

JIM BERRY:  I would like to see all the “Swimaways” stand up.  These are the guys who swam away from the ship!  
   Each year we look at all of the members of our organization that have done something to better the group.  We call these people “Stinger of the Year”.  There are a number of us around and tonight is the night for the “Stinger of the Year” to come forward.  JACK MARTIN!  Front and Center!  (Applause)  Get up here!  The Stinger Club recognizes with gratitude the many tasks you have completed over the years for our club.  Each task undertaken has been done extremely well regardless of long hours and effort involved.  As Chairman of the Auction Committee, Parliamentarian, Chairman of two Reunions and preparing for the third testifies to your unselfish loyalty and contributions to the Stinger Club.  The Awards Committee and members of the club take great pleasure in making this presentation.  Thanks, Jack, you are a true Stinger.

JACK MARTIN:  Thank you, thank you so much.

DUFF MCDONOUGH:  At this time, Virginia Lee (Wylma Wiliamowski's sister) has asked to speak.

VIRGINIA LEE:  Thank you.  I am Virginia Lee, Henry Wilamowski's sister-in-law.  I was in Shanksville, Pennsylvania this past week for the ceremonies we had there (site of the deliberate plane crash of 9/11/01 caused by terrorists headed for D.C.).  We were hearing about all the heroes and all the things that happened.  I was preparing to come here and I thought this is a group of wonderful heroes too!  Thank you for having me.

DUFF MCDONOUGH:  In closing, I would like to thank the Mount Vernon Swing Band-you are terrific!  They will play some more until 2200 hours.  Thank you all for coming and I know all have enjoyed the Washington D.C. banquet.


Services lead by Chaplain Hal Sessions consisted of a worship service followed by the congregation saying the Lord's Prayer.  The Navy Hymn was sung and the benediction given.