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CECIL: Then the captain turned around headed for open sea so we wouldn't get in the way of the other ships. Why there was more or less a sigh of relief that we gotten away with what we had.

ZOOK: Then we lost track of the battle.  It was going on behind us. But the next morning, at daylight, why a ship - group of ships was coming up behind us. They were friendly.

NARRATOR: The ships were the 5 other survivors of the 13 American ships in the previous night’s battle. All but one had sustained serious damage. The flagship USS San Francisco suffered the most.

CECIL: We received the blinker message from the San Francisco that they needed medical assistance if any was available, so as few casualties as we had had, they sent the junior medical officer and 2 other pharmacists mates and myself to the San Francisco.

DAN KURZMANN (Author, Left to Die): The ships were heading toward - or limping you might say - toward base.  When a lone submarine in the area aimed its torpedoes at the USS San Francisco which was a flagship, but the torpedoes missed and it hit the Juneau by mistake so to speak.

GIBSON: We were about 3,000 yards from the Juneau when it happened.

NARRATOR: Victor Gibson was standing watch on the bridge of the San Francisco.

VICTOR GIBSON (USS San Francisco Crew): All at once I saw two torpedoes coming kind of from our port side towards right across the front of our bow and then when they got by us I went to the starboard side and the one that was closest to the San Francisco, it looked to me like that was the one that went on over and hit the Juneau and pow!  Fifteen or 20 seconds, the Juneau was destroyed.

CECIL: She was there one minute and I looked away for a second and I looked back up and all there was was a cloud of smoke with a big explosion.  And when the smoke cleared, there wasn't anything on the water.  Couldn't see any survivors at all.

NARRATOR: But there were survivors. Of the Juneau’s 700-man crew, about 140 were thrown clear into the water, many of them suffering with terrible wounds.

ENTRIKIN: This was without a doubt the most horrifying thing we’d ever seen.

NARRATOR: B-17 crew chief William Entrikin was on a routine search mission when he saw the Juneau explode.

WILLIAM ENTRIKIN (B-17 Crew): People were clinging to anything that they could cling to and of course they were all well covered with bunker sea and oil, and black as tar and hardly recognizable as human beings.

KURZMANN: A lot of them just died right there you know in the water, they drowned, they- because the- there was nothing to hang on to.  There was hardly any debris left.  So there were maybe a hundred men or so who got aboard these three rafts.

NARRATOR: Signalman Lester Zook was a seasoned crew member of the Juneau.

ZOOK: We could look and see our other ships going away.  I mean, they were just- split out right away.  But there was due cause for that.  We were in the torpedo junction.

NARRATOR: Frank Holmgren was 19 when he joined the Navy, despite not knowing how to swim.

FRANK HOLMGREN (USS Juneau Crew): And they kept going and I heard the guys start saying "they ain't gonna come back" and the other ones said "oh yeah, they’re gonna come back and pick us up."  And the next thing we know - they're gone.

NARRATOR: After the task force’s two admirals were killed in the night battle, Capt. Gilbert Hoover, commanding officer of the USS Helena, assumed command.

KURZMANN: Captain Hoover, had refused to send a radio signal for help for these men because he'd been given orders not to, not to use the radio because of the possibility that the Japanese would pick up the signal and he was convinced that no human being could have survived after that hit.  So he decided rather than go back and look for survivors, that the ships should continue on toward base.

LESTER ZOOK (USS Juneau Crew): They’re not going to stay there and get destroyed themselves, but they will come back that night and look for us.  Then when the next day we didn't see 'em again, it's still - it's still no point of getting hardly nervous you know about it, because the planes could have reported us like they should have and probably did, so a- rescue is imminent.

NARRATOR: But the plane circling overhead would not be the survivors’ salvation.

ENTRIKIN: As we left the survivors and went over toward the departing ships, we saw of course that they were heavily damaged and we circled them and as we circled them we began to get blinker signals from one of the ships.  We didn't know it at the time but it was the Helena.

ROBERT SWENSEN (Son of Lyman Swensen): Captain Hoover sent a message about the Juneau being sunk and the possibility of survivors in the water and he got acknowledgment from the aircraft that the message was received and that they would relay it to Naval Headquarters.  And he was satisfied that there would be an air-sea rescue operation.

WILLIAM ENTRIKIN (B-17 Crew): We decided to go to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. We had to get on the surface somewhere if we’re gonna tell somebody what had happened.  When we got to Guadalcanal and we were actually on our final approach to land when we got a red light flashed at us from the tower which forced us to go around. We were in the midst of an air raid alert.

NARRATOR: Lieutenant Bob Gill was the pilot of Entrikin’s B-17. When they couldn’t land, he decided to finish their daylong mission.

ENTRIKIN: So by the time we would have been back, another five hours had elapsed clearly.  And it was five hours that nobody had looked for the - for the, for them.  And nobody knew to look for them.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012