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 SHIP FORMATION
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
2108H Visual To DDs Set Cond. 3AA at 110400H
2130H Pri-Ci To TF De-energize all electronic equipment
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
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
0402 PriTac 884-OTC I have collided with Columbus
0405H PriTac CL50-OTC Int Course?
0407H PriTac CL50-OTC Int Course?
ABOARD USS SHANGRI-LA WITH CTF 77
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
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.
ABOARD THE GUIDE, USS COLUMBUS
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
RADM McCorkle was named a member of
the Court of Inquiry.
ABOARD USS FLOYD H. PARKS
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
THE TRIP BACK TO SUBIC BAY
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
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)
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
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
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 OF INQUIRY
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
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.
ACTIONS OF REVIEWING AUTHORITIES
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 "...it 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
Exactly sixteen months after the collision the Judge
Advocate General of the Navy, RADM Chester Ward, issued
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
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
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"...it 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