Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) and embarked Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) gathered in the ship’s hangar bay in the early hours of Aug. 3 to pay tribute to the crews lost during attacks on USS Neosho (AO 23), USS Sims (DD 409), and the eighth USS Wasp (CV 7), with a wreath laying ceremony.
The ceremony was especially compelling as Wasp (LHD 1) was transiting in the vicinity where Wasp (CV 7) was sunk, with the wreckage having been found in January of this year – 76 years after the tragedy.
“As we steam above the final resting place of this ship’s namesake, we take the time recognize the efforts of three amazing crews who served aboard three of America’s finest warships,” said Capt. Gregory Baker, Wasp’s Executive Officer, who served as master of ceremonies. “Today we honor three ships of the Pacific Fleet whose crews served honorably and admirably, and paved the way to victory in the Pacific.”
In May of 1942, during World War II, Neosho and her escort Sims were attacked by Japanese aircraft during the Battle of Coral Sea, with the ships initially being mistaken for an aircraft carrier and cruiser. Both ships sustained extreme damage, with Sims sinking – leaving only 14 survivors – and Neosho afloat, but listing heavily, and drifting for a number of days. Wasp’s demise came on September 15, 1942, when it was hit by three torpedoes from a Japanese submarine, triggering major fuel fires, and in turn ammunition detonations. Commanding Officer Capt. Forrest P. Sherman ordered the ship abandoned less than an hour after the initial torpedo strikes, with that decision ultimately saving the lives of the majority of the crew and embarked Marines. Wasp was ultimately scuttled to prevent the ship from falling into enemy hands.
Five wreaths were placed in the Coral Sea by Wasp Commanding Officer Capt. Christopher Herr, Commander, Amphibious Squadron ELEVEN Capt. Jim McGovern, Commander, 31st MEU Col. Robert Brodie, Wasp Command Master Chief Kevin Guy, and Wasp Navigator Lt. Roger Gonzalez. The ceremony was especially poignant for Gonzalez, whose great uncle – J. C. Crowder – was onboard Wasp the day it was attacked.
“He enlisted after Pearl Harbor, met Wasp stateside – apparently he had never seen the ocean before – and sailed away with the ship,” said Gonzalez. “When the ship was struck, he ended up surviving by jumping off the flight deck after abandon ship was called away. Some of his recollections of this event to family members were pretty horrific, but I think it’s important to focus on the fact that he was able to serve his country, do his duty, and after Wasp, to ultimately live to be fairly old.”
During the ceremony, which concluded with a 21-gun salute, Herr noted the heroism of the crew, especially with the collective and impromptu prioritization they made to ensure all the injured were safely off the doomed ship.
“On that afternoon in the South Pacific, the Sailors and Marines on Wasp were tested; their ship was attacked and damaged to the point of requiring abandonment. And through it all, their humanity shone,” he said. “However… on that day nearly 2,000 men collectively decided the well-being of others was the priority, even at the risk of their lives – and they made that decision in utter mayhem. In the two hours from the initial torpedo strike, until the last man was safely off Wasp, these Sailors and Marines became heroes.”
Wasp, flagship of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, with embarked 31st MEU, is operating in the Indo-Pacific region to enhance interoperability with partners and serve as a ready response force for any type of contingency.