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(a personal account)
March 11, 1956 (0400H)

The 1955-1956 WESPAC CRUISE book gives a short factual description of the collision between USS Columbus and USS Parks. This account was almost a verbatim description of the collision report which was sent to higher authorities by CO USS Parks in order to satisfy expected queries from newspaper correspondents and appeared in several west coast newspapers with large navy readership. This account is quoted here.

"At four AM. Sunday 11 March 1956, while engaged in night operations with famed task force 77 in the 'South China Sea about 250 miles west of Luzon, Republic of the Philippines, USS Floyd B Parks (DD884) and the heavy cruiser Columbus (CA74) collided. In the collision a fifty foot section of Parks' bow was sheared off and extensive damage was incurred on the port side of the ship. Columbus suffered several holes in her hull above the water line and damage to her starboard side. Two of USS Parks crew were reported missing....."


The eight ships of TF 77 were conducting exercises several hundred miles west of Luzon. The ships were in a diamond formation with the formation axis 000. The ships were in station as follows: USS Kearsarge CV33 - 2.5000, USS Shangri-La CV38 - 2.5180, USS Helena CL50 - 2.5090, USS Columbus CA 74 - 2.5270, USS Floyd B. Parks DD884 - 5315, USS John. R. Craig DD885 - 5045 USS McDermut DD677 -5235, USS Tingey DD539 - 5135. The ships were steaming on course 260 at 18 Knots. US5 Columbus was the guide. CTF 77, RADM Storrs, was aboard USS Shangri-La. The wind was coming from about 045 at 12kts. The ships were in latitude 14 Deg25"N., longitude 115deg58"E. It was a cool, pleasant., moonless night. The only sound punctuating the night was the gentle, rhythmic sound of the bow waves.

The collision occurred at 0400H.

The following messages were received on the bridge of USS Parks.

2053H PriTac To TF Show only dimmed running lights
2105H SecTac To DDs Form Concentric circular screen circle 5.
2108H Visual To DDs Set Cond. 3AA at 110400H
2130H Pri-Ci To TF De-energize all electronic equipment between 15KC
and 40,000MCS
2234H Visual To TF Air OPS sched 11Mar 0400 etc
2242 Visual To TF Night intentions: To remain in present course and present
speed in present formation throughout the night.
2250H Visual To CTF Parks unsuccessfully attempted to send Rent report. OTC
Refused the report. OTC said NO VISUAL Signalling
2345H Visual To DDs Proceed to rescue DD stations as follows without signal:
Parks -2.5315; Craig - 2.5045; Tingey - 2.5135;
McDermut - 2215
0300H Visual To TF Set Lighting conditon Green at 0345
0330 Pri-Ci To CVs EmCon Relaxed from 302.OMC to 1075MC
0332H SecTac CV33-OTC Ready to operate Aircraft when wind conditions are suitable.
0354H Yard Arm To TF BT IX - Turn 035/spd20/TO350?IX?IX?
0400H PriTac CV33-CA74 I am coming right with full rudder.
0402 PriTac 884-OTC I have collided with Columbus
0405H PriTac CL50-OTC Int Course?
0407H PriTac CL50-OTC Int Course?



Of all the senior members of the staff of CARDIV Five, Capt. G, S. James had been aboard the longest. He had been attached to this carrier division for ? months and had been involved "or a number of weeks in the planning of the exercises being conducted. The purpose of this particular night exercise was to determine the feasibility of maneuvering a. fast task force in close antiaircraft formation in condition of radio and visual silence. Not t much thought had been given to the method to be used in maneuvering this fast formation on a dark night, nor, had any information been disseminated to the destroyers as to the purpose of the exercise, nor, had advice been requested from the ship= in regard to the state of readiness of their signal crews. The Destroyers were simply attached to Task Force 77 and assigned Stations. It came as 'a surprise to CincPac that Capt. James had not been made an "Interested Party" in the Court of Inquiry which we will talk about later.

ComCarDiv FIVE was RADM Aaron "Putt" Storrs. He had relieved VADM Davis five weeks before the collision. Then three weeks later (two weeks before the collision) he had relieved
VADM Williamson as CTF 77. VADM Williamson had been involved in the planning of these exercises and should have had knowledge of the state of training of the signal crew of the flagship. For some reason VADM Williamson had remained in the area of Subic Bay, P.I. after he had been detached as COMCARDIV Five. He was named senior member of the Court of Inquiry. RADM Storrs was named an "Interested Party."

The Staff Watch (and Tactical) officer on the morning of March 11 1956 was LCDR James V. Fallon. He was carrying out the orders of RADM Storrs by sending out the messages listed above. The orders were extremely simple: maintain the present formation and continue on present course and speed until 0400H. At that time turn the formation into the wind and increase speed to 20 knots in preparation for launching aircraft.

The signalmen had reported difficulty in getting out the 0300H message about setting lighting measure "Green". So about 0330H he drafted the message to the formation to "TURN 035--SPEED 20" The message was to go out visually. (Since the ships were in visual silence it is presumed that Infra Red visual signals were being used). LCDR Fallon showed the message to Capt. James and to Ens. Joseph Lugert who was the junior watch officer. At this time RADM Storrs was called and notified that the ships would be turning to launch aircraft.

At about 0350H LCDR Fallon asked the signalman on watch, Joseph Milam Jr. 0M3,lf the signal was ready for execution, Milam replied that he was having difficulty in reaching all the ships. As a matter of fact he had not reached any of the ships, not even the flagship. So he was asked by LCDR Fallon what they could do to get the message out. Milam replied that they could use the yardarm blinkers and use the immediate executive method of execution. This means that the signal would be repeated twice and then the signal would be executed. In a minute or two LCDR Fallon asked Milam if the signal was ready to be executed. Charles W. Brown, QM3 had already sent out the signal and Milam said "yes". LCDR Fallon said "execute it." Both the Admiral and the Chief of Staff were aware that this method was being used to signal the turn, (Maneuvering the ships was a small detail that was forgotten in the planning stage.) The Officer of the Deck of USS Shangri-La was not informed about the impending turn signal nor of it's execution. The next message that LCDR Fallon heard was the voice of the Commanding Officer of Parks stating that ParKs and Columbus had collided.
LCDR Fallon, Signalmen Brown and Milam were made "Interested Parties" to the Court of Inquiry.


It, also, was a quiet night on the bridge of USS Columbus. Things were relaxed. Captain George C. Seay was safely asleep in his cabin. He had left orders to be awakened at 0330H. LTJG
Paul T. Shortel was the OOD and had the Conn. All that he had left to do before being relieved of the watch was to send a messenger to awaken the Captain and to order the helmsman to a new course in response to a signal that was expected from the OTC. The new course would be into the wind and whenever he received the course and the execute he would order the helmsman to take the course using right standard rudder. Columbus was the guide and the ships would follow her. But in his intensity to receive the turn signal he forgot to notify the messenger to call the Captain. The new watch was coming up to the bridge for the four to eight watch. There is always a certain amount of confusion as sleepy men try to grasp the situation quickly and to let the tired mid-watch standers get relieved so that they can get an hour or two of sleep before breakfast. One of the oncoming signalmen slept aft on USS Columbus. Enroute to the bridge he could see the yardarm blinker of USS Shangri-La as it flashed TURN 035--SPD--20---IX--IX. He was the only person in the entire Task Force who could see and read the message. He came to the bridge and asked the signalman on watch if they were executing the turn. Mr. Shortel had no idea that the turn signal had been sent. So he ordered right full rudder and ordered the messenger to call the Captain. He was hoping that the Captain would not notice that he had let him sleep for an extra 25 minutes. However the messenger met the Captain as he was leaving his cabin to come to the bridge. The Captain did not appreciate the kindness of the ODD who had let him sleep the extra time. His first thought was to express his feeling to the OOD. After he finished he was told that they were late. in turning and were coming to 035 using right full rudder. The quartermaster reported to the OOD that the bearing on Parks was remaining steady. Captain Seay reminded them that if both ships were turning in-unison the bearing would remain steady. The Captain went outside to look at Parks and as he looked down to see her he heard her whistle and then the sound of the collision alarm. It was too late to do anything. USS Columbus continued in her turn and sheared off fifty feet of the Parks bow. And as the angry cry of the sheared metal subsided he heard the voice of the Commanding Officer of USS Kearsarge calling the Columbus and saying "I am coming right with full rudder." The Captain of the Kearsarge, himself, had sent the message and under his breath as he let go of the transmitter button he said "Please, don't hit me."

The noise of the collision awoke RADM McCorkle. He was embarked on USS Columbus as COMCRUDIV Three. He was Captain Seay's boss and had a very close relationship with Captain Seay.

Captain George Seay and LTJG Paul Shortel were made "Interested Parties" to the Court of Inquiry.

RADM McCorkle was named a member of the Court of Inquiry.


Like every other ship in the formation it was a quiet right on the bridge of USS Parks. The OOD was LT William Hagan. B_; virtue of his rank he was the senior watch officer aboard.
Neither the Captain, nor the rest of the officers, had yet had = good chance to size him up. He had recently relieved LT 0.;n Banks who was an extremely capable officer and had a sixth sense about being OOD. Mr. Hogan was a quiet loner who spent much c` his time when he was off watch in either his cabin or in `he radio shack. None of his ex-shipmates can remember too much about him. The Captain, CDR Joseph Gustaferro, felt uneasy when Lt. Hogan had the "deck". The Captain had been on the bridge from about 23VOH and at 0325H had watched as Lt. Hegan had maneuvered the ship to the Kearsarge's port bow (Parks' plane guard station after the turn into the wind).

The Captain not only felt uneasy about LT Hogan but a1so about the situation. Here he was on a dark night, 2000 yards on the starboard quarter of Columbus and 1600 yards on the port bow of USS Kearsarge, steaming at 18 knots without radar and withrLit any effective way of contacting the OTC because of radio and visual silence. Over and over again he kept ordering the bridge watch to keep their eyes on Columbus, Kearsarge and Shangri-La. He thought "Thank God Parks has sonar". The ship was keeping station by sonar. " Sonar", was reporting the range to both the cruiser and the carrier, and had been ordered to report if the range to either ship =hanged. The Captain as was his custom was all over the bridge. He would watch the carrier for a minute or two, then he would watch USS Shangri-La to see if there were anv messages being sent, then he would go into the pilot house to see if any messages were coming in by radio, then he would see if the port lookout and the OOD were watching Columbus. He had told the lookout, in a loud voice "Report if you see Columbus turning, for if she turns without our knowledge we are dead." Someone had handed the, Captain a cup of coffee and he was sipping it as he went from station to station.

The quietness on the bridge suddenly disappeared. The port lookout yelled " Columbus is turning!" And-indeed she had turned. She was broadside to Parks and in a turn. No one had


noticed her turn. There were about three minutes from the time that Columbus had begun her turn until the time that a collision was inevitable. When the rudder is put over hard right on a cruiser there seems to be no reaction for about a minute, then the ship reacts and makes a tight turn. Thus the first minute the turn could not be discerned by Park's personnel. Neither the Captain, the two Officers of the Deck, nor the lookout saw Columbus turn. And more importantly no one on Columbus noted that Parks had not turned.

At the instant that the lookout reported that Columbus was turning Parks' lookouts, and the rest of the watch, were in the middle of changing the watch and the Captain at this moment did not know who had the Conn. But it did not matter for the Captain sang out in a loud clear calm voice "I have the Conn."

The Captain stepped from the open bridge into the pilothouse. He ordered "Right full rudder" and ordered that the whistle be blown five short blasts, and he ordered the collision alarm to be sounded. When he had stepped into the pilothouse he was still carrying the cup of coffee and as he gave the order to the helmsman and the other orders he simply let go of the cup of coffee and grabbed the engine room speed annunciator, He moved the handles to emergency back full. To this day the Captain and several members of the crew swear that all of this was done before the cup gently drifted down and hit the deck. The cup was empty and did not break. Now there was nothing to do but wait for the collision.

The ship shuddered for several seconds as the engine= backed "Emergency Full". The bow of Columbus looked liked it would pass ahead of Park's bow. But Columbus was still turning. Then
she charged at 18+ knots and neatly sliced through the bow of Parks, pushing the port barrel of gun mount number one and spinning the mount so that the gun barrels, which were no longer parallel, pointed to the starboard beam. Parks' bow apparently had drifted down the port side of Columbus. The bow remained afloat for about 14 hours after the collision.

The noise was deafening. It sounded like two freight trains were going through each other in a tunnel. In the dark each piece of violated metal gave off a shower of sparks several feet high. Electric cables with as much as 440 volts were cut and shorted and burned adding to the fireworks. Topside on the Parks men were frozen as they watched Columbus. The tremendous weight of the Cruiser pushed the 2250-ton Parks to starboard and as Parks swung, the Cruiser raked her entire starboard side down Parks' port side, and then her stern cleared Parks. And exactly at 0400H Kearsarge, now slightly on the port bow of the turned Parks, told Columbus, "I am coming right with full rudder." Parks was now dead in the water.

Either Lt.jg Goodell, the on-coming OOD, or the Junior Officer of the deck handed the Captain his life jacket, Although the ship was at "Collision quarters" the Captain asked "'What do I need this for?" The Officer said ''we may sink". The Captain said "No way" and put the life jacket down. But his mind, which was processing thoughts in microseconds, wondered what would happen to his wife and two small children.

It was at this point that the Captain realized that they had not lost power. At 0402H he reached for the PRITAC phone and notified the OTC "I have collided with the cruiser, Columbus." (Later at the Court of Inquiry LCDR Fallon told CDR Gustaferro that everyone sounded so calm that he thought it was an inconsequential collision.)

The questions foremost in the mind of the Captain was how many men were killed, how many men were missing (the part of the bow that had disappeared down the Columbus port side appeared to be the Chief Petty Officers' sleeping quarters), and how fast was the ship taking on water.

But within a few seconds after Columbus disengaged Parks, the frozen crew came to life and into action. Damage control parties led by the able Engineer Officer, Lt Tom Groves, and by the Damage Control Officer, Ens. C.D. Bratcher, rushed forward to survey the extent of the damage. The Executive Officer , LCDR. J.W. Ryles rushed to muster the crew and to get a quick look at the damage so that he could report to the Captain.

Reports started to flow to the bridge. Most of the reports came by messenger or by officers who had first hand knowledge of the situation. LT Groves reported that the ship was not taking on much water. He reported that a number of spaces were open to the sea. He had ordered several aft empty oil tanks to be flooded in order to raise the bow. He also reported that he thought the damage control parties could install enough shoring so that we might proceed forward at a. few knots speed and possibly get back to Subic Bay, 250 miles away. One of the Junior Officers came up from the wardroom which was being used as a sick bay and reported that neither Chief Hospitalman Joseph Mahurn nor his striker Seaman Willie Lipscomb were in the wardroom. These two were the ship's only medical personnel. The muster of the crew was coming along slowly since the 240 man crew were furiously working in various parts of the ship.

From the viewpoint of the men on the bridge it was a horrible experience, but from the viewpoint of the men in the CPO and Supply division sleeping quarters the viewpoint was indeed terrifying. Many of these men were not watchstanders, their workday was from about 0600 to about 1900. So they were getting their final hours sleep before the workday began.

Imagine, if you will, sleeping in a small compartment walled in by steel, covered with asbestos sheet, and having just enough room to slide carefully into your bunk, without enough room to sit up in the bunk. The men are sleeping in a dark compartment with one or two very dim red nightlights at the entrance ways. Suddenly five short blast of the whistle (meaning DANGER) awakes some of the light sleepers. Seconds later the collision alarm sounds and then they feel the ship backing down. Before any of them can remember how little steel is between them and the anchors a large ship comes crashing in. Some of the men were close enough to touch or be touched by the ship. Yet not a single one of them panicked. In fact there were many acts of heroism. Seaman Leland Bowlet saw Chief Petty Officer "Doc" Mahurn being thrown from his bunk into the sea. Leland went into the water and somehow got a line around the chief and with the help of several shipmates pulled Mahurn aboard. Glenn Street was badly injured and wedged in his bunk. His shipmates Bob Sentelle, Hob Parris and Don Braswell pulled him from his bunk and carried him onto the deck. There were many other acts of assistance and bravery enabling all the men to get out of the forward compartments except two.

We are not privy to the thoughts or dreams of Jackie Eugene Johnson or Willie Lewis Lipscomb as they spent their last moments


alive. Maybe Johnson was dreaming about his wife, Violet, whom he had married less than two years ago and had recently written that she was planning on leaving him. Maybe Lipscomb was dreaming about marrying and having a family so he could belong to someone. He knew that his enlistment address was false and that if he died in the service no one could claim his estate--a $10,000 free government life insurance policy. When Columbus entered Parks both men were sleeping in the part of Parks that went down the port side of Columbus, They were never seen again.

On the bridge of Parks at 0405H and again at 0407H over the FRITAC circuit the Cruiser Helena called the OTC and asked "INT COURSE?" There were no replies.

Then all radio circuits started to call Parks. They were courteous messages---Do you need help?---How many men are in the water?---Are you taking on water?---Do you need help with any injured men?---Do you have engine power?---etc---.

The Captain's mind which was still processing thoughts microseconds now went into a loop. All it processed was-I wish I knew---I wish I knew---I wish 1 knew.

Captain Benjamin P. Field, who was the Commodore of Destroyer Squadron One, was aboard Parks. The squadron flag had no part to play in the current exercises so there was no reason for the Commodore to be on the bridge. However, with the noises of the collision he woke up, and of course, rushed to the bridge. He saw that the Captain was busy and politely waited until he had a chance to talk to the Captain. All he could find out from the Captain was that Columbus for some unexplained reason had turned and came crashing into the Parks. As far as Parks personnel could determine no other ship had turned. The Captain was not yet sure of the extent of the damage or how many men were lost. Commodore Field decided to move his flag and staff to Craig as soon as Craig could get a boat alongside. He remembered to dig out the black pearl necklace that he had purchased for his wife and took it with him. He did not return to Parks until the ship had been fully repaired in Long Beach.

The crew was mustered, first incorrectly stating that four men were missing and later correctly reporting two men being missing. Both musters were reported to the OTC. The rumor went around the wardroom that two men slept through the entire collision, but no one really bothered to ascertain why the original muster was incorrect. Two men were seriously injured. Mahurin and Street had to be transferred to Columbus for medical treatment. Both were very happy to return to Parks in Subic Hay. The flooding was brought under control and shoring was being wedged into place to prevent the see from entering when the ship got underway. Reports and log books were being written. The search for the two missing men was being conducted by the other three destroyers of the Task Force. And most important, the crew was about to be fed in the messhall, The Executive Officer, LCDR Hill Ryles had been told that the ship would have to be cleaned up before she arrived in 5ubic, but since today was a Sunday, holiday routine would be observed.

At 0457H LT Groves reported that the ship could get underway slowly. A message was sent to the OTC reporting that Parks could get underway slowly. Gently, turn by turn the engines were
speeded up. There was fear that too much speed would cause the shoring to cave in and the Damage Control Party would have to


start all over again. Gradually the ship was speeded up to two knots. But the ship refused to remain on an easterly heading. The northeast wind would swing the ship so that she was heading south. Attempts were made to bring the ship around through north
and then to try and sneak up to an easterly direction. This would work for a few minutes and then the ship would swing around again. The Captain wanted to speed up a little bit to gain steerage way. Lt Groves said to try another knot or two and he would stay in the forward bow to see how the shoring was holding. Progress to the east was painfully slow. Lt Groves said that he did not recommend any more speed.

Slowly the black night gave way to a dull gray dawn and this was followed by a bright tropical sun.

R. A. Roxas, the Captain's stewardsmate, appeared on the bridge and asked the Captain if he wanted any breakfast and that he would bring it up to the bridge. The Captain loudly told
Roxas that he would be down to the wardroom in a minute and that he wanted two poached eggs and ham for breakfast. He turned over the Conn to the OOD and went down to the wardroom. As he sat down to eat he noted that he had a new starched napkin. And with absolutely no appetite he ate all the food on his plate.

Several of the Officers came through the wardroom as they carried out various tasks. Lt. Groves reported that the men had done a beautiful job of putting up the shoring and strange as it seemed he looked very happy. Ltjg Dick Blackington, who had only been aboard ship a few weeks noted that his last ship, an APA (USS Pickaway) never made drills quite this realistic. A11 of the Officers left the wardroom (probably to go out on deck and to light up a cigarette). The Captain was alone. His mind was busy but his eyes were staring at the port bulkhead. The Exec entered. He was a kind gentle man who had come up from the ranks. He was older than the Captain. "Captain," he said "I want to thank you, you did everything you could to prevent the collision. It was lucky you backed the engines full. If we hadn't slowed down we would have been hit either midship or worse yet in the forward engine room. There would he no saving the ship. We would have lost a hell of a lot of people. Sure, nobody likes to lose even a man. But we were lucky we have you". The Captain thanked him and in a choked voice asked him about the morale of the crew. Bill, who had been an enlisted man said, "It has never been higher on any ship that I have been on!". With that the Captain left the wardroom. On the bridge the signal men were receiving a message from Kearsarge. It read --- "Kearsarge wants to thank Parks for running interference -- It is far better to have a collision of a CA and a DD than a CA and a CV -- good luck to you". The message made the Captain feel better but his mind was still on Johnson, Lipscomb, Mahurin and Street.

The OOD who had the Conn was continuing on an easterly course at about three knots but the progress was delayed by occasional spins of the ship through south and west and north and
back to east, USS Columbus had been ordered to remain with the Parks which was slowly drifting away from the point of the collision. USS Craig was ordered to continue the search for the missing men and to rejoin the rest of the task force when she deemed further search was futile. Craig remained in the vicinity of the Parks' bow. Somehow the crew of Craig determined that there were no survivors in the bow nor were there any bodies. The remaining ships of the Task Force were conducting various exercises.


After Lt Hogan had been relieved of the watch by Ltjg, Goodell he went to the radio shack. One of the radio men intercepted a press release stating that Columbus and Parks had
collided and that four men were missing. The radioman asked Lt Hogan if he could send a Class "E" message to his wife, stating "She is a worrywart and soon as she reads this she will know that I am dead". Mr. Hogan agreed and told him he would get the Captain to release the message. On hearing this the Captain said to get the word out to the crew and each man who desired could send one class E message and the costs would be borne by the welfare fund. Lt. Hogan asked if the Captain wanted to release all the messages. He got no reply. In a little while he returned to the bridge with several messages. One of them caught the Captain's eye. It said "I am a. bit shaken up and except for a few scratches I am fine" The captain was surprised he had not heard of any additional injuries. So he asked that the man be sent to the bridge. The man, had been sleeping aft and had run forward at the sound of the collision alarm. He had slid his hand along the lifeline. In the darkness he had hit a cable splice and had scratched his hand. It was covered with two small band aids. The message was addressed to his mother in the Midwest. The Captain addressed him "Young man, do you realize if your mother sees this message she is going to imagine you with a horribly scratched face and one eye hanging out of its eye socket." He paused and asked the sailor "how about sending her this mess-age-'Working as usual. I am fine and will be home on schedule'?" The sailor agreed and this became the standard message that any man could send without charge and without the Captain's release.


USS Columbus with RADM McCorkle aboard was the OTC of the two ships. Columbus was ordered to tow Parks. With some , difficulty Columbus maneuvered to get a line over to Parks.
After several attempts a towing cable was brought aboard the Parks and fastened to the most remaining forward set of bollards. Parks signaled she was ready to get underway. The towing line wrapped itself around one of Columbus' screws and she too had to limp toward Subic with one screw inoperative. The towing exercise was abandoned. In the evening the wind died down and Parks was able to maintain an easterly course. Now and then a stray gust of wind would catch Parks and she would swing through a 360 degree circle. But she was making slow but steady progress.

That night there seemed to be a greater number of men sleeping on blankets on the deck than any of the previous nights.

Sometime on Monday the sea going tug, Munsee, met Parks and took her in tow. Now the speed was about five knots but there were no fears about the shoring. Parks was being towed stern
first. The crew were kept as busy as possible cleaning up the ship. Brass under coats of paint was scraped and polished.
The Medical Officer on Columbus sent a message to Parks saying crew members should be watched and that any who appeared over stressed should be asked if they wished to be transferred to Columbus. This message was amplified by LCDR Ryles and given to the Division officers. The Division officers canvassed their men and not a single man wanted to transfer to Columbus.
On Tuesday, the three ships (Columbus, Parks, Munsee) joined


in a memorial service for Johnson and Lipscomb. The men on all three ships were in dress white uniform. The service_ on Columbus were heard on Parks with the aid of loudspeakers set up on the cruiser's main deck. The Chaplain led the crew in prayer, the squad of Marine Corps riflemen saluted the dead with a volley of rifle shots and the mournful music of "Taps" was sounded. The Captain of Parks gave a short eulogy and a tribute to the deceased men. Ensign Ayers, who aspired to become a Minister, gave the "Prayers to the Dead." The funeral was over.
Prior to arriving into Subic Bay the Captain assembled the ship's Officers and preparations were made for the next phase of the collision. Planning was started in order to assist the
drydock personnel who would build a temporary bow far the ship which would be removed on arrival in the United States, and evidence had to be gathered for- the coming Court of Inquiry. It was essential to know exactly what was the chain of events that caused the collision, and who had inputs into this chain and who could have broken the chain. Without this knowledge there was no doubt that Commanding Officer of Parks would be handed all the blame.
A large piece of velum paper was used to plot the positions of the ships involved. With this plot it became obvious that Parks had made no mistakes. As the Captain studied the evidence he became extremely angry. Anyone who accused him or his crew of wrongdoing was going to have a fight on his hands. On Thursday evening U55 Munsee with Parks in tow arrived into Subic Bay. The towing cable was cast off and USS Parks proceeded into drydock under her own power.

It was not until late afternoon on Friday that the Captain could make his call on RADM Glen R. Donaho, Commander Naval Base, Subic. At the Administration Building every one was very
courteous to CDR Gustaferro. He felt like he was about to go to the gallows and all the senior officers wanted to tell him what a nice guy he was before the hanging. After a bit of small talk the Admiral made the perfunctory statement "If there is anything I can do to help you, let me know." The Captain asked "Who is the best lawyer on the base?" Without thinking the Admiral said "Commander Norm Lancaster" and, after a moments hesitation said "But he is busy. He is going to represent George Seay, You can talk to him if you wish" and then noting that it was after quitting time he added "I believe he had to meet someone in Olongopo". The Captain asked if he could borrow a car and a driver. The conversation was over. An enlisted man indicated that he was the driver and would take the Captain to where ever he wanted to go.

The Captain simply ordered the driver to take him to where ever he could find CDR Lancaster, In about ten minutes the Car stopped and the driver opened the door. The building was a
typical Filipino small business building or possibly a residence. Inside was a fairly large room with tables and a group of men in civilian clothes were playing some sort of game. A few looked up when CDR Gustaferro, in uniform, entered. He asked if one of them might be CDR Lancaster. One of the men, who had not looked up, said "I am CDR Lancaster, and you are CDR Gustaferro and I don't want to talk to you. I am going to represent Captain Seay." Gustaferro said "I understand you are a hell of a good lawyer and that you always 'win'. I would like to show you the chart I have made up and maybe we can talk about representing me."
CDR Lancaster responded. "Can't we do this-on Monday morning in my office?" But CDR Gustaferro proceed to unroll the velum paper


chart and started to explain the chain of events that led to the collision: The Captain's talk went on for about five minutes and then CDR Lancaster started to ask questions. The talk went on for about ten more minutes and Lancaster said "Well, I have not yet met Capt Seay but the Admiral told me that I would be involved in the Court of Inquiry and that I probably should represent the Captain of the Columbus since they were the guide it looks like they had an easy case. I have not yet made any commitments." Then he asked if the Officer of the Deck of Parks, Lt, Hogan, would require separate counsel. He was assured by CDR Gustaferro that as Captain he would be responsible for all the crew of Parks including Lt. Hagan and that only one lawyer would be required for all Parks. With that CDR Lancaster smiled and said "Commander, if you can keep your mouth shut at the Court, I wi11 be your lawyer"

The Captain knew that this would be difficult but he readily agreed. The two men shook hands and agreed to meet on Monday morning. The Captain was smiling as he entered the car to return to the ship.
Yard workmen were swarming over the ship when the Captain returned. Welders and cutters were already smoothing up the tear in the bow. The plan was to install a slightly pointed new bow
so that the ship could safely steam to Long Beach at about fifteen knots. Lt Groves was keeping a close tab on the plans, Much work had to be done. The Navy Yard Long Beach had sent over several engineers to look over the ship and to start drawing up plans to install a permanent bow. The work was to progress seven days a week three shifts a day. The schedule proposed to have the ship ready to depart Subic on the 11th of April. In those days schedules were maintained. The ship left on time.


The court room was an over sized conference room. The doorway was in the center of one long wall. As soon as one entered he would face the three members of the court. The senior member would be in the center and he would be flanked by the other members. In front of them and to their right was a table for the Judge Advocate and his staff including a shorthand recorder. In front of them and in a large circle were tables for the Interested Parties. Each party with different interests would be at separate table with its counsel. Several assistants such as messengers and aides would be an chairs flanking the entrance door. There were six tables for the individual Interested Parties. Immediately in front of the Members table was a small table for the witness being interrogated and on the table was a Bible and a red book which had the code for Military Justice and the detailed procedures for running a Court of Inquiry and incidentally a General Court Marsha1. The Court of inquiry revolves around the Judge Advocate. He, or his staff, proposes the members of the court, proposes the Interested Parties, and drafts all the papers for the court according to their orders. The Court of Inquiry is an investigative body. It is similar to a Grand Jury. It can recommend that "Interested Parties" be tried by General court marshal or it can recommend that letters of "Reprimand", or" Censure" or "Caution" be placed in a man's record. The convening authority of this court was Commander Seventh Fleet, VADM S.H. Ingersoll. He designated CDR Carl Lundin to be the Judge Advocate. Members of the court were VADM Williamson, RADM McCorkle, and Capt. Baldouf who was the Destroyer Screen Commander during the collision exercise.


The Interested Parties were Commander Gustaferro and LT Hogan who had bundled their cases when Commander Gustaferro stated that he would take full responsibility for Parks and Parks', crew (even though he did not have the Conn until collision was inevitable), Capt. Seay, LTJG Shortel,(both of these officers were from Columbus but by mutual requests were considered separately), RADf°1 5torr=, LCDR Fallen (both from CARDIV Five were considered separately), Charles W Brown DM3c and Joseph Milam Jr. OM3r (both crew members of Shangri-La considered together.)

The court met on the 20th of March 1956. A score of witnesses were called before the Interested Parties were given the opportunity to present their version of what happened and the
reasons why they were blameless. The Captain of Kearsarge testified that he had turned to avoid Columbus and that these ships would have collided if Parks had not interfered. Offices who were not interested parties from each of the ships involved' were called to relate what they had witnessed. A Commander of one of the shore based staffs, who was an expert witness on seamanship, was called to testify. He happened to be a Submarine Officer and he was asked by the Judge Advocate what he would have done if he were the Captain of Parks, he replied "I guess I would have hoped I was on a submarine and we could make an emergency dive." Several times people gave evidence that was patently false and each time Cdr Gustaferro would start shaking his head and appeared to be ready to say something. CDR Lancaster would restrain Commander Gustaferro with a a thumb in his belt to ensure that he did not. rise to speak. At one time Parks' Captain was about to blurt out a comment, but he was restrained by Lancaster who whispered in his ear "Careful, he may be on your promotion board when you come up for Captain's rank." This remark had the desired effect of controlling the anger abcut to be expressed by the Captain of Parks. Cdr. Lancaster knew when to ask a question and when to let the court proceed. Above all he had the total respect of Cdr. Lundin who was in reality running the show, so Gustaferro felt he was in good hands.

The preponderance of the evidence presented tended to prove that no one on Parks should be punished for the collision. But as CDR Lundin put it "There was a collision, two men were killed,
it will cost the Navy almost a million dollars to effect the repairs on the ships involved. Collisions are not normal. The question is who should be held responsible for this collision and who should have taken action to prevent this catastrophe". It would be difficult for VADM Williamson to agree to take action against ADM Storrs and ruin his chances of becoming a Vice Admiral. They had been friends for a long time. RADM McCorkle felt the same way about Capt. Seay.

The board agreed on one thing. Someone would have to be punished. The most likely candidate for the punishment was Commander Gustaferro, but Captain Baldauf kept arguing that the evidence would not support this conclusion. So on about the sixth day of the hearing Capt Baldauf's presence on the court was challenged and Commander Seventh Fleet replaced him by a Captain who happened to be present in Subic Bay. CDR Lancaster knew that a lawyer of CDR Lundin's ability, in a practical sense, would dissuade the court from recommending a person for a General Court Marshal unless there was an extremely high probability that the man would be judged guilty by the Court Marshal. The evidence would not support a Court Marshal. However, from his own career viewpoint it would not be good if no one was guilty of any wrongdoing. With Captain Baldauf off the court it became


possible to put some of the blame on the Commanding officer of Parks. The court decided to portion out the blame as follows: Letters of Censure to CDR Gustaferro, LCDR Fallon and LTJG Shortell. A letter of Caution to Capt. Seay. All other parties were blameless! The Court of Inquiry made a number of conclusions about visual communication and about use of the "Immediate Executive Method" of maneuvering a task force. As a result of the Court, work began immediately by the Bureau of Ships to move the yard arm blinkers to a place where they could be seen. The court had determined that no one had received the ill fated signal: BT IX TURN 035/SPD20/TO35/IX/IX/ except the moving signalman on Columbus.

The court of inquiry finished its work in about nine days. The record of the court is contained in a report eight inches thick.


Commander Seventh Fleet in his endorsement cancelled the letter of caution to Captain Seay. Other than making the observation that the signalmen on Shangri-La needed more training he did not make any other change=_ to the recommendations of the Court.

Commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet's endorsement was issued on 1 August 1956. He was incensed that RADM Storrs' chief of staff, Capt. G. James, was not made an "Interested Party" in
the Court. He considered issuing a letter of censure to Capt. James but he agreed that would not be fair without an impartial hearing. He ordered RADM Pride, ComAirPac to hold a special hearing on Capt James to determine if such a letter should be issued.

As expected ComAirPac could find no fault with the conduct of Capt. James but he did concur that the destroyers could stand further training and that the Commanding Officer of Parks be punished.

ComCruDesPac, RADM Chester Wood, forwarded his endorsement to the proceedings on 27 August 1956. It is a thought provoking and philosophical endorsement. He had some kind and flattering words to say about Commander Gustaferro. For example, he said " is quite obvious from the record that Commander Gustaferro is an extremely able officer, a splendid leader, highly conscientious in all that he does, forthright and imbued with complete integrity. There certainly can be no criticism whatsoever of any lack of moral fiber on his part. The very finest traits of character were evident throughout." He then recommended no action be taken to punish the Captain of USS Parks. A bit more of his endorsement will be quoted later.

The record was again returned to CincPacFlt. The heart of his endorsement centered around the fact that Capt. James was not recommended for punishment, and to make the record fair he
ordered that all letters of Censure be withdrawn. He felt that the lessons learned in this exercise and the lessons learned in the Court of Inquiry were sufficient to justify no disciplinary punishment to personnel involved.

Exactly sixteen months after the collision the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, RADM Chester Ward, issued his 38


page endorsement to the proceedings. He carefully and thoughtfully discussed all the legal points pertinent to the collision. He was critical of ComSeventh FLT for convening the board with personnel who might well have been interested parties. He noted the close relation-ship between the Court members and the actual interested parties. He made a. number of legal conclusions. Finally he concurred that all letters of punishment be withdrawn and the single notation be placed in the personnel records of RADM Storrs, Capt. James, LCDR Fallon, Cap+, Seay, LTJG Shortell, and CDR Gustaferro stating that the proceedings and review of the Court of Inquiry are a matter of interest to any reviewing authority who happens to review the persons record for any type of personnel action
On 9 December 1957 the final administrative action was taken on the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, a man who was the Destroyer Sailor personified, approved the record and the endorsements made to that record by ComCruDesPac and the Judge Advocate General of the Navy. The collision was officially over.


As noted before Parks left Subic Bay, Luzon, Republic of the Philippines on April 11, 1956 with a temporary snub nosed bow and singly steamed to San Diego, California via Guam, Midway and
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, The crew was kept busy with instruction and drills. A considerable amount of maintenance was accomplished. The personal effects of the deceased men were inventoried and prepared for mailing. At the urging of the Bureau of Naval Personnel attempts were made to locate the correct address of the late Seaman Lipscomb. This was not accomplished, at least in the next six months. The ship arrived in San Diego on the second of May for a two week period of leave and upkeep. No ship in peacetime has been greeted more affectionately by loved ones.
There was much to celebrate about. The crew had been bonded together. Lt Groves introduced LTJG Backington to his young beautiful sister-in-law and shortly thereafter they were married.
In the meantime Navy Shipyard Long Beach had been busy finding a new bow for Parks. Naval architects decided that the most economical thing to do was to take a ship of the Sumner
(long hull) class out of mothballs and to cannibalize the bow of this ship for Parks. So when Parks arrived in Long Beach for her regular yard overhaul she was sailed into a drydock which already contained an identical bow to the one she lost. Yard workmen removed the temporary bow and re-floated the new bow into place and welded the two together into a permanent and lasting marriage. The navy ship superintendent, Commander Thomas Owen was responsible for assisting in the planning the work schedule and responsible for the final product. He always claimed that the new bow would outlast the rest of the ship. So far he is right.

Commander Gustaferro remained as the Commanding Officer of USS Parks until December 18, 1956. He had been the Commanding officer of the ship for 26 months. He was transferred to ComPhibPac staff as the Evaluations Officer. From there he was transferred to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations where he was attached to the Office of Naval Research and Development. The Chief of Naval-Operations was Admiral Arleigh Burke. CDR Gustaferro had several opportunities to discuss the collision


with Admiral Burke. On this tour of duty CDR Gustaferro was selected for Captain. He was at the dispensary at the main Navy Building in downtown Washington when he got word of his
promotion. The first thought that entered his mind was "Norm Lancaster sure is the Navy's best lawyer!" When ADM Burke congratulated Captain Gustaferro on his promotion he snorted and said with a big smile, "Those Airdales thought that they could get you!" On the first day that Captain Gustaferro put on his "Eagles" he received his orders to the prestigious National War College at Ft. McNair, Washington, D.C.

Not much is known by this author of the Outcome of the other "Interested Parties". Neither RADM Storrs, nor Capt. James, nor LCDR Fallon, nor Capt. Seay were promoted. LTJG Shortell left the navy soon after the collision. He was a Reserve Officer and presumably wanted to revert to a civilian life. Capt. Seay retired and taught at a college in central Virginia. He has since died. LT Hogan who had the Parks' Conn until collision was inevitable and shielded at the Court of Inquiry by his Captain was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He retired about eight years after the collision and died shortly there after. The whereabouts of Chief Petty Officer Mahurin or Ship's Baker were not known

This is the story of the collision of USS Parks and USS Columbus, except for one paragraph written by ComCruDesPac and contained in his endorsement to the Court's proceedings. I said" is strongly recommended that no further action be taken in the case of Commander GUSTAFERRO. As regard punishment: He has been punished through anguish to a marked degree, and being the type of individual he is, he will continue to be punished in respect for as long as he lives."

Thirty eight years have passed since the collision and Gustaferro often stares off into space as his mind processes thoughts and then goes into a loop thinking... Johnson/Lipscomb/Mahurin/Street....


(This narrative was written essentially from memory by Capt. J. F, Gustaferro USN (RET). He will be the first to admit that a person's memory is fallible after 38 years.)
J. F. Gustaferro - May 5, 1994