It was my privilege to know and love like a father, CPO George McQueen who
was in charge of the forward Quartermaster station on the USS Wasp. We
attended a Baptist church together in IL for several years and when he
landed in the hospital with diabetes, I visited him often. On our last
visit, talk turned toward the war and through the tears he told me of losing
his best friend to a lucky enemy aircraft shot. His friend was an ammo
loader for George who operated an AA gun. He said that it was too painful to
talk about it and I offered to change the subject but he then continued to
talk very softly about the war. He had left his QM station to run an errand
and was returning when the first of the 3 torpedoes hit the USS Wasp
resulting in the forward QM station being destroyed.
Shortly after trying to fight the fires, he was ordered to abandon ship so
he ran to the fantail and tried to calm the panicked sailors as he told them
to grab life preservers and prepare to jump into the water. He reminded all
those present to hug their helmets under their arms next to their sides so
they would have them when they surfaced from the long jump. He stated that
many still panicked and either jumped without preservers or with helmets
strapped under chins, the latter receiving instant broken necks.
When George surfaced from his jump, the water was covered with fuel oil and
above that a layer of aviation gas which was on fire. He had to use his arms
to flail and clear a temporary space on the surface so he could get a quick
breath of air and then duck under the surface while swimming and hanging on
to his preserver. This took about 2 1/2 hours of swimming away from the ship
before he was clear of the flames on the surface.
He then joined a number of other survivors who were able to grab on to
various bits of flotsam to wait for rescue. During this wait an unknown
number of men were taken by sharks as evidenced by the screams and stuggles.
Several hours later a destroyer came alongside to rescue this group of which
George was a part. As they were helping the wounded to board the destroyer,
a sonar return prompted the ship to abandon rescue and attack the sub
instead. After some time, and numerous depth charge explosions, the
destroyer returned and plucked George and his mates out of the water.
George stated that he and the others were so covered with thick black oil
that they were tied together on the deck to keep them from slipping around
and until they could be taken below singly to be cleaned up. He was
eventually transferred to another ship and fought in the Pacific before
coming back to the US.
This Husband, father, brother and friend to many stuffed these memories deep inside when he returned home and I was privileged to be present when he finally began to talk about them. He agreed to allow me to visit his home in 2 weeks from then to record this story in more detail and his other Navy memories. Sadly, George went to be with his Savior a week later on 15 AUG 2005.
I am so humbled by the heroism, patriotism, loyalty, duty to God and
country, bravery and downright spunk and guts of the American warriors of
WWII who have given this country the freedoms we cherish and enjoy. I wish I
could hug every one of them and say THANK YOU!, THANK YOU!, THANK YOU! We will carry the torch you all so boldly protected and passed on to us.
-- D.M. Gregory, 29 November 2005