“THE FIGHTING LADY”
(Why the visit was personal)
By: Jack Serig, Sr.
Upon entering the hangar deck of the once mighty U.S.S.
Yorktown, during our 1998 Charleston, SC reunion tour, I made my way
toward one of the gentlemen ship’s volunteer guides distinguished by their
bright red vests. My target was a weather-wizened, elderly gray haired person
seated on a high stool behind the Information Center desk. I noted he wore
a dark blue baseball cap emblazoned with the ship’s name.
Before introducing myself I asked if he were a member
of the ship’s crew when it was engaged in its Pacific battles. He acknowledged
that he was. Going for a “long shot” I asked him if he knew a Charles
Serig. He said, “Red head? “Yes!” I responded. He said, “Tall?” “Yes!” I
added, thinking I was getting warm. He said, “Animated?” “Very!” I replied,
realizing I had hit the jackpot. “Yeah, he said. “We were Quartermasters
and bunked together with ten other Quatermasters.
The gentleman’s name was Don Ziglar. He asked me to have my brother
call him. He scrounged around for paper and pen to give me his personal number
to pass on to my brother. Finding none he asked me to accompany him
to the deck below where the volunteers’ office was located. He offered
Navy coffee and a chair while he wrote down his name and phone number.
As we returned to the hangar deck I asked Don what he
did after the war. He explained he used the GI Bill, earned a law degree
and practiced law for 44 years, including time as a magistrate. I said,
“May I call you Judge?” “Yes!” he said.
When we were back on the hangar deck I asked “the judge”
to show me where the one and only Kamikaze’s bomb had penetrated the fleet’s
air defenses and found its mark. As we proceeded toward a starboard
opening extending out beyond the hangar deck, Don stated that of the 109
combat engagements the ship had been in between 1943 and 1945 the single
bomb strike was the only time any Japanese plane had been successful in hitting
the ship. The attacking plane carrying the bomb had been shot down and crashed
in the open sea. However, the bomb found its mark just below and behind
the captain’s bridge where Don was on duty at the time entering the battle
scenes in the ship’s log every 15 seconds.
Don explained exactly where the delayed fuse bomb had
struck, how it skittered down along the outside metal plating of the ship
and finally exploded below the hangar deck into the bunkroom that he, my
brother Charles, and ten other quartermaster bunkmates occupied when they
rested or were sleeping. Fotunately, it was not occupied at the time.
Unfortunately, in areas adjacent to the bunkroom there were 5 KIA and 28
WIA resulting from the bomb’s explosive blast.
At this point in the story is where it becomes personal.
My brother, Charles, (family calls him Bus or Buster) was off duty at the
time of the sneak attack by the Jap plane. He had decided to leave
his bunkroom and go to the flight deck to take a smoke and catch some air.
That’s where he was when he saw the Kamikaze and watched the bomb it had
dropped angling closer and closer toward the Yorktown.
After the explosion the medics found my brother unconscious
on the flight deck. Loading him onto a stretcher they raced to the
nearest sickbay. Seeing no signs of wounds through his clothing the
medics undressed him and found nothing that would clarify his unconscious
state. My brother had simply fainted likely from the internal terror
he experienced while watching the bomb come c-l-o-s-e-r and c-l-o-s-e-r.
Several times during family get-togethers Buster, my eldest
brother, had told me his part of the story but “the judge” was able to fill
in many gaps that I was never made aware of until our meaningful visit to
“The Fighting Lady”.
The family story doesn’t end here. Adjacent to the
parking lot where the Yorktown was berthed was a replica of a land based
Navy unit similar to some of those located in Vietnam’s Delta region.
Well-armed small craft naval vessels supported by Huey gunships were positioned
around the Delta to keep the 5,000 miles of waterways clear for friendly
operations and to deny the enemy access. Our kid-brother, Ward, a Navy
hello pilot had served his country from one of these Delta units. The
Army had given the Navy some helos to support their operations. Ward, as
a naval aviator, was assigned to Ft. Rucker for a month, enroute to Vietnam,
to get his gunship checkout while our family was stationed there. He lived
with us for that time and I was able to provide him with some limited perspective
of what ‘Nam was like having recently returned from my second tour.
Now, you can understand why my visit to the Yorktown and its environs was
so personal. From a family perspective, three brothers, serving their country,
all survived a total of 54 years of service. And dad was a Marine for 3 years!
THREE Navy against ONE Army! And they could never intimidate me!
This article was published
in the LOGBOOK, a tri-annual publication of the Army Otter-Caribou Association,
November, 1998 edition.