He never sang to me, but an old sailor whose name sometimes escapes me gave me “Danny Boy.” I heard about Richard Bothwell before I ever talked to him. About 10 years ago he called my dad in hopes of getting copies of some of the World War II photos from their time aboard the Landing Craft Infantry 565 in the Pacific.
Carefully I accepted the tiny black-and-white photos my dad dug out — among them a couple from when the sailors became “shellbacks” in a ceremony for crossing the Equator, another showing the “black gang,” the slang term for the guys who worked in the engine room — and took them to be copied.
My dad mailed the pictures to his Navy buddy in California, along with a Bangor Daily News interview I’d done with my dad on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1994. And all the time I wondered about the men who had spent more than a year with 20-year-old Gayland Alton Moore Jr. on a 158-foot ship. Would I ever know their names?
I wouldn’t forget Bothwell himself, that’s for sure. Shortly after receiving the pictures from my dad, he called me right up at the BDN to thank me for making the copies and sending the interview and other articles I’d written about World War II.
He was effusive, enthusiastic, and I could barely get a word in edgewise. But I had to ask: “What was my dad like way back then?”
In a word, he told me: “sweet,” and I could believe it.
I probed for stories about life on the LCI 565, no small request given that the war was more than 50 years over, and Bothwell was more concerned with the anthrax scare at the time.
It took some doing to haul him back to 1944 by telephone, but the story he told was a keeper.
It seems that my dad had a copy of the song “Danny Boy,” which he played over and over again. I would have guessed it was the Bing Crosby version, but since that came out in 1945 and my dad had been in the Pacific since 1944, it may have been the 78 rpm by the Glenn Miller Band.
At any rate, Bothwell got tired of listening to “Danny Boy,” to the point that he took it off the record player and heaved it overboard.
Just as quickly, my dad grabbed Bothwell’s records and threw them into the ocean.
On hearing this, I couldn’t wait to get on the phone with my dad to get his version of the story. Oh, yes, it was true.
Evidence of a quick temper, some might say. I couldn’t argue with that.
But to me, it’s the story of a 20-year-old, a long way from home and months at sea, redressing action taken against something he was so sentimental about — the song, more than the record.
To be honest, I had trouble remembering Richard Bothwell’s last name until I saw it on some of the 33 million records of enlisted men in the U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949, newly released by ancestry.com just before Memorial Day.
Nine of those quarterly reports for the LCI 565 listed Gayland Alton Moore Jr., a motor machinist’s mate aboard a rocket ship that took part in the battles of Leyte Gulf and Luzon in the Philippines, and Okinawa nearer Japan. His “place of enrollment” in the Navy, I read on the record of his promotion, was Dover-Foxcroft, Maine; Bothwell’s was Seattle, Wash.
Both of them were listed on the commissioning report of March 16, 1944, with the “Date first received on board” of March 3, 1944. It took just a week to build the LCI 565 in The Solomons, Md., my dad told me, and he watched the construction.
The original 14 men — the “plank owners,” as they were called, were seamen Edward Basil Alai, Floyd Thomas Huffmaster, Gerald Francis Judge, Karl Herman Mueller, Arthur Francis Ruddick and William Degen Voigt; firemen Jacob Blaun, Richard Denny Bothwell, Eugene Robert Gannon and Jack Syner Hesterson; motor machinist’s mate Gayland Alton Moore Jr.; ship’s cook Cecil Gilbert Motley; and pharmacist’s mate William Arthur Woodburn.
The group soon would increase to its regular crew of four officers and 24 men, my dad told me. Seven months later, as a “flagship” during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the small ship carried a crew of 80.
When I found my dad’s name in the quarterly reports posted online, the LCI 565 came to life for me. To go along with what history tells me about the battles of Leyte Gulf in October 1944, Luzon in January 1945 and Okinawa in April 1945, and what my dad said during a two-hour interview, I can now intersperse the ship’s muster rolls for March, June, September and December during 1944 and most of 1945.
Less than a year after Richard Bothwell called to thank me for the World War II photos, my father died.
It turns out that my dad and I had our own “Danny Boy” memory, but I didn’t know how special it would be at the time. He came to Bangor — not a frequent activity for this Abbot boy — to attend the 1995 dedication of the Maine Korean War Memorial at Mount Hope Cemetery.
He came because I asked him, and because I had bought him a stone with his name on it in the Remembrance Walkway for veterans of all wars in front of the monument.
Music during the dedication included the “Navy Hymn” and an a cappella rendition of “Danny Boy” by Perley York, Korean War veteran, Knights of Columbus member and my co-worker at the Bangor Daily News.
My dad has been gone nine years, having died Memorial Day week 2002. Every year my mom and I drive to Abbot to put flowers on his grave in the village cemetery, next door to the baseball field where he once played for the town team.
One line from “Danny Boy” I remember above all others:
’Tis you, ’tis you
Must go, and I must bide.
These days, I love to sing to babies, especially my grandchildren. After writing this story a week ago I sang “Danny Boy” to my newest, 8-week-old Emilee Anne Saucier, holding her up so we could look into each other’s face. I hope she saw my dad’s eyes.
The U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls may be viewed free at public libraries that subscribe to ancestry.com, including those in Bangor, Ellsworth, Belfast and Oakland. Roxanne Moore Saucier may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.