"GRAFTON REMEMBERSRevolutionWar of 1812Mexican WarWorld War""1941 - 1945This tablet is placed here to honorcitizens of Graftonwho served inWorld War II""In remembranceour Korean Veterans1950-1955""Our VietNam Veterans1964 - 1975"
This was an unexpected stop made early on a Saturday morning, when the only people in sight were a couple of tourists lounging in front of the Old Tavern and one or two younger residents taking their morning jog through the village. I was impressed that the town hall building is now 201 years old and still serving the community. The entire village offers picture postcard views and seems to ask visitors to hang around, even though there are few opportunities for doing so.
There is a small gas station, village store, the tavern and inn, a cheese store and a nature museum. A quick glance at the honor rolls show a handful of surnames prevalent in almost every conflict. This must be a tightly knit community in which deep roots are common within each house.
The only named loss since the American Revolution appears on the list of fallen from World War II. MM3 Walter E Wright, US Navy, was just five weeks short of his 22nd birthday when he died aboard the USS Turner (DD-648). The 348 foot long destroyer was just about one year old and had already logged many thousands of miles of convoy escort duty. USS Turner had finished another westbound escort on January 2, 1944, and around 0330 she anchored near Ambrose Light. The crew was hoping to enter New York harbor for few days of liberty before venturing back into the winter seas of the North Atlantic.
At reville call the next day the berthing compartments began to stir as most of the off watch enlisted crew moved to the mess deck for morning chow. The warm steam line was welcomed by many of the men. Their destroyer was new, but it was still difficult in cold weather to find any spot away from the engineering spaces that didn't have an icy tinge to the air. Small swells moved the ship slightly as it sat at anchor, but the experienced sailors didn't let that stop them from finding a seat and digging in.
The call for the special sea and anchor detail was expected soon, and the snipes deep in the engineering spaces were getting ready to bring maneuvering steam up in the ships four boilers. The CO, Cdr Henry Wygand Jr,, was on the bridge, along with many of the ship's officers. It takes a lot to bring a sixteen hundred ton vessel away from anchorage, and the possibility of something unforeseen is always on the mind of those in charge.
Just before 0700 Cdr Wygand and most of the hands on the bridge, in CIC and Radio Central, were killed as a massive explosion ripped through the main deck and upper decks. Down below the engineers where choking in smoke, flames and heat. The enlisted men in the two mess deck areas were knocked to the deck; bleeding and dazed. Many were already dead, and several of the living had to struggle from under the bodies of their shipmates in order to reach the ladders up to the main deck.
Most of the survivors found it difficult to describe the carnage. Som men were wanding about without clothing, their dungarees had been blown off their bodies by the first blast. The ships PA system had been knocked out and few officers or chiefs were left to pass the word. Training and experience took over as the able bodied men that could lend a hand moved through the damaged compartments,helping wounded sailors escape as more explosions tore through every deck.
The on duty watch at Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook saw the light of the explosion. Seconds later a series of booms shook most of the coastline cottages and homes. Motor life boats and patrol cutters immtediately got underay to the area of the explosions. The icy water was not going to allow the injured sailors of USS Turner to survive long, the quick arrival of Coast Guard assistance saved many of the crew.
Approximately an hour after the first explosion, a number of smaller explosions had pretty much destroyed the ship. Two final explosions, one as the capsized keel fell underneath the surface, finished Turner. Fifteen officers and 123 enlisted men, about half of the ships compliment had been killed. Survivors were transported ashore by the Coast Guard and in the process established the usefulness of helicopters in search and rescue operations.
On the morning of January 3, 1944, Cdr Frank Erickson, USCG, was Executive Officer of the Coast Guard Air Station at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. a couple of years earlier, on December 7, 1941, Erickson had been on watch as duty officer at Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor. He watched as America was dragged into World War II. For Erickson this was a personal mission, saving lives when everybody else was concentrating on taking them.
Cdr Erickson had been heavily involved in the development of the Sikorsky HNS-1 helicopter for use in Coast Guard rescue and support missions. Although a severe snow storm had hampered flying in the New York City area that morning, Erickson navigated from Floyd Bennett Field toward the hospital at Sandy Hook. He delivered a load of badly needed blood plasma for the injured sailors of the Turner. That was the first time any helicopter was used for a search and rescue mission.