The USS Houston was flagship for a proud Asiatic Fleet at the beginning of WWII. Along with the Houston, 21 American warships were destroyed in battle in the opening months of the war.  Numerous British, Australian, and Dutch warships were lost as well.  These sailors and ships were sacrificed to gain to gain time for future victories. Only two months after the Asiatic Fleet ceased to exist, the American and Allied fleets began to build on the victories at Coral Sea and Midway.

I wish you could have talked to Joe Gans, who was one of the older crew members. He was over 30 years old when the ship went down.  He talks in the "Death Becomes the Ghost" but what you may not know is he was once 2500 miles up the Yangtzee River with the old China Patrol (remember the movie "Sand Pebbles" ... this is the time frame). Before Pearl Harbor, he was helping the Brits (as a US Navy Engineer) to to build the "Burma Road" over the Himalayan range to China. Later, as a POW of the Japanese, he was slave labor to build the "Death Railway" ... "The Burma Rail"... (Bridge over River Kwai was one of 40+  bridges on that rail).  And , yet, his sense of humor is the most healthy  you'll find anywhere.  At the end of the movie, in some out-takes, you may hear my voice as I ask him if he considered working for the railroad when he was repatriated from Indochina. Never crossed his mind. He was dedicated to stay in the Navy ... and it was from theNavy he retired.

Check the BATTLE LINKS for  a direct link to Joe's son, Phil, who is a stong member and supporter of the NEXT GENERATION.

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In case we missed something you especially liked, here is the link to the original site.


John Wisecup, USMC survivor and prolific poet lived in  Japan. He died in 2001.He married a Japanese lady. John Wisecup and Lloyd Willey, both Marines,are artists who present their memories in poetry.Apparently the sailors from the Houston were not as refined as the Marine contingent. Several books came from the sailors ranks over the years, but the Marines provide the poetry. Band of Brothers

"The Century"
By Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster, a new book about the contributions of the WWII generation to the century features Otto Schwarz, representing the survivors of the USS Houston
on page 241.

Otto Schwarz tells of the horrors of the battles and POW experience.  As the ship was sinking a Marine Gunner was told to abandon his 5" gun and save himself. He said " I have one round left, by God and I'm using it!" He was not seen again.



To the Memorial Services and Reunion Photo Page from 2002 ... HERE


Preface: Below by Capt. "Jack" Slaughter.

Walter has done everything short of a bribe to get me to sit down, to put fingers to keyboard and to write about Balikpapen. Whew, that was a long time ago. Memory is blurred. No diary was kept, not because it was discouraged, but because I never did write them. However, there were ship's logs, battle reports, naval history and yes some letters I wrote. With tongue in cheek and not a chance to upstage the marvelous report of Otto Schwartz, I undertake to give something to Walter.

We know "our" fleet had the finest and most capable and best trained sailors in the world manning antiquated ships, a couple exceptions, well equipped to fight a WW I type battle. For those of us who served on the "China Station" it is not necessary to put this in perspective, but as this may have a somewhat larger audience, I will start with a quick review of the U.S.Navy history of events in or affecting the Western Pacific Theater commencing with the attack on Pearl Harbor.





When the USS Houston (CA-30) was sunk, part of their next task was left undone. the "Lost Battalion" the 131st Texas National Guard Artillery Rgt. was stranded on Java and were captured and imprisoned with the Houston Crew.
The Texas 131st remain close to the Houston Survivors to this  day.  they shared a brotherhood of POW experience. 


“From the beginning of foreign contact with China, the status of foreigners residing in, or doing business with, China was a puzzle for the Chinese government in Peking as well as the foreign traders attempting to do business. The Chinese government wanted to keep the western barbarians outside of China and did not want to administer their own internal disagreements. Strong foreign commercial and political influence in China between 1841 and 1942 emanated from treaty ports. These were tiny enclaves of foreign influence and government located throughout much of coastal and eastern China.

The Asiatic Station of the U.S. Navy was the overall command of the U.S. Navy in the Far East during the 1880’s. Vessels of the Asiatic Squadron, including South China and Yangtze River Patrol, on this station were primarily involved in matters relating to U.S. commerce with China and Japan.

27 April 1898, this squadron, composed of 3 cruisers, 2 gunboats and 1 cutter (Commodore Dewey in flagship Olympia), sailed from Mirs Bay, China, to the Philippines to participate in the Spanish-American War, destroyed the Spanish fleet guarding the Philippines, and effectively took control of Manila Bay.

In 1902, the Asiatic Squadron was upgraded to the Asiatic Fleet.

In 1922, the Asiatic Fleet was charged with defending the Philippines and Guam, and with upholding the Open Door Policy in China.

In 1924-1927, the regularly assigned forces of the Asiatic Fleet were augmented because the political turmoil in the Philippines and China was such as to frequently require the presence of the United States naval vessels to protect American lives and prosperity where outbreaks occurred: Japanese Militarists “China war,” Rape of Nanking, and many incidents and “accidents” involving American properties

12 December 1937, Japanese bombed and sank Panay at Nanking in the Yangtze River.

28 February 1941 Asiatic fleet was renamed the U.S. Asiatic Fleet.

In July 1941, American, British Commonwealth, Dutch and Australian (ABDA) diplomatic and military planning determined that the principal military effort of the Associated Powers will be in the Atlantic and European Areas, and operations in other areas will be conducted to facilitate that effort. The U.S. Navy would not reinforce the Asiatic Fleet by the Pacific Fleet and assumed that war with Japan would see destruction of United States and allied air and naval forces in these regions. U.S. Pacific Fleet would defend the Malay Barrier, if the Japanese “made a direct act of war” against ABDA territory.

24 November 1941, Admiral Thomas C. Hart ordered Marines and others from China to the Philippines and Asiatic Fleet units to Philippine and Dutch East Indies ports.

Alerted that hostilities with Japan were close at hand, the fleet quickly prepared for war. When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on 7 Dec. 1941, the Japanese naval and air forces began their attacks on the nearby U.S. Asiatic Fleet.

2 December 1941, Rear Admiral William A. Glassford deactivated the historic Yangtze Patrol and departed for Manila aboard Luzon with Mindanao and Oahu.

Tutuila remained upriver at Chungking and Wake at Shanghai as State Department radio station.

8 December 1941, Rear Admiral William A. Glassford, Commander Task Force 5, hoisted his flag aboard Houston at Ilio. Japan commenced hostilities.

15 January 1942, four old U.S. “4-piper” destroyers (Ford, Paul jones, Parrot, & Pope) attacked and sank Japanese vessels anchored in Balikpapan Bay. This was the first surface action of the Pacific War and the first since 1898.

30 January 1942, U.S. Asiatic Fleet units were organized into U.S. Naval Forces Southwest Pacific under Vice Admiral W.A. Glassford – the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, not formally abolished, ceased to exist.

4 February 1942, Battle of Flores Sea: Houston & Marblehead, severly damaged by bombing.

15 February 1942, Admiral Hart relinquished operational command to Admiral Helfirch RNN. General Wavell reassigned and reassumed his position as Commander-in-Chief India.

17 February 1942, Battle of Badeong Strait: Stewart, Java & Tromp damaged, and Piet Hein lost.

27 February – 5 March 1942, Battle of the Java Sea and Battle of Sunda Strait. ABDA forces, nearly destroyed by superior Japanese forces, dissolved. The United States, in agreement with Allied governments, assumes responsibility fore the strategic defense of entire Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. Asiatic Fleet – recognized by many awards for Valor, Meritorious Service, and achievement – relegated to history, remembered by those who served, and forgotten in contemporary history.” ~~~~ taken from the pamphlet “The Asiatic Fleet Memorial Room _ In Honor and Remembrance of All Who Served; provided at the United States Memorial, Washington DC

Numerous ships and their battle escorts were lost in the next few days in the disastrous evacuation of Java. the Navy's first Aircraft Carrier (so old it was used as a seaplane tender) was sunk enroute to Java with already too late fighter planes in crates. The last message from USS Langly (CV-1) was "Mother said there would be days like this". USS Pillsbury (DD-227) and USS Edsall (DD-219) (destroyers) were lost without a trace ..  (Our guestbook has helped us to gain closure for a relative of a Pillsbury crew.  The last word received by family .. as in the case of the Houston ... was, "Heavy enemy action has resulted in the loss of your son's ship.  It is presumed all hands are lost". ) USS Ashville was lost with one survivor who later died as a POW.  USS Pecos was lost with only a few survivors.  In all 21 ships of the US ASIATIC FLEET were lost by March 4 and hope of victories for the American Navy were slim. At least as many Allied ships were lost along with the Americans.  See more about these valiant allies HERE. The story of the Battle of Balikpapan HERE.
March 1 is designated as ASIATIC FLEET REMEMBRANCE DAY ... the day the Flagship of the Asiatic Fleet met her doom with Medal of Honor Recipient, Capt. Albert Rooks in command.
He died of wounds before the ship passed into the deep.
You will find much information in this web site.  Follow the links. We also link to other relative sites and hope to have even more on this site soon.  The videos will help more than we can tell you.  If you don't have them, you should.

What about the HOUSTON AVENGERS? They were the 1000 recruits who joined the Navy in a huge ceremony in Downtown Houston at a bond drive following the loss of the City's beloved vessel. They each went on to serve their country in all areas of the US Navy during WWII. they participated in battles yet to come and helped to bring an end to the war some 3 1/2 years later. Some of them have attended annual memorial services for the Houston, much to the delight of the surviving Houston crew.  Wouldn't it be a great project to find their service records and record their individual experiences and list  the ships they served in? 

And what about the ships built with the War Bond Drive that day? USS HOUSTON (CL-81) Light Cruiser . This ship survived battles later in the war.  After two torpedo hits, the crew by sheer will-power  kept the ship afloat to return to America  for repairs .  A valliant ship and crew in their own right. Click on the link above to learn more.
USS Houston (CL-81) Light Cruiser

They raised so much money in Houston, Texas to build a cruiser to replace their beloved (CA-30) with (CL-81) they had enough left over to build a carrier!  This carrier,(CVL-30) became a  Battle Veteran ,  serving as the platform for Ensign George Bush.
At the  time, Bush  was the youngest Naval Aviator in combat. He was shot down long before he ever got elected to anything!

Ships Named for Key Individuals

USS ROOKS (DD-804) Destroyer
Built in time to fight in the war earning several Battle Stars.

The ship was named after Capt. A.H. Rooks

USS RENTZ (FFG-46) Frigate
An Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigate, still in service.  USS Rentz was the platform for a day of interviews with some of the survivors of USS Houston.
Chaplain Rentz, Capt. USN,  was the Asiatic fleet Chaplain.  He died in the water after giving his life vest to a young sailor who did not even know he had been attached to the vest until he realized the Chaplain was gone. (I met the sailor) His family had held a funeral for him in 1942 after news of the ships demise. Survivors were not expected.  Yet, in late1945, Walter showed up alive in Mississippi to the amazement of his family and friends.  Every year after that, on trips through his hometown, he would leave flowers on his own grave.  (Walter was a very humorous man and he told this story with the perfection  that only a native Mississippian could.) By the way, Walter's cousin from West Texas,  had heard of the Houston story. As a school girl (in the 1930's) she saw  the Houston make a historic trip up the Houston Ship Channel to the City of  Houston .  Later, during the war,  she  remembered her family telling her she lost a cousin on the Houston.  She came to the 1998 memorial service to pay her respects. She had not (as a young girl in Texas) gotten the word that her cousin from Mississippi had survived.  This had to be the most joyous memory of the 1998 memorial service. We are most happy this meeting occured. Walter Beeson died seveal months later in 1998.

USS HOUSTON (SSN-713) Attack Submarine
The CL-81 was retired soon after WWII. 

When CA-30 was lost in action, and largely because President Roosevelt was deepley attached to the USS Houston, (he made 4 major cruises with her in the 1930's) he declared in a national speech that there would be another HOUSTON and another HOUSTON and another until Japan was defeated.

Well, Japan was defeated, and CL-81 carried the tradiiton.  Some years later the nuclear submarine USS Houston was launched.  It is still in the fleet today.

One young sailor swimming fast to get away from  the ship as was going down turned to  Lt. Rogers, the Gunnery Officer as he passed him (Rogers was slower and older and heavier).  He  saluted and asked  "By your leave sir?"
Rogers didn't miss a beat. Navy Protocol was ingrained even in the worst of situations. Rogers returned the salute and replied,
"Carry on sailor!"
(Tell me there is no tradition and protocol in the US Navy!! Rogers retired as an admiral ... long after this episode.. of course). (See poem below? Name the Allied Nations that participated in the battles to halt the Imperial Japanese Naval Advance on Indonesia and Australia?)
click HERE to claim your treasure!)

The Soul Remains
Every year on March First they gather
in dwindling numbers not in sorrow, rather
in pride as four nations represented; ribbons and dress
look back to honor their bravest and best
who banded together and stood to fight
for their flags and each other against the might
of a seasoned and modern foe
until the ships and men were sent below
the waves in numbers so great
few remained to tell of the awful fate
of great Dutch cruisers, de Reuter
and Java and the Brit's Exeter and the Cruiser
from Australia, the Perth and so many
other proud ships with crews whose families
would miss them terribly and wonder
what happened and why and of the other
the Great American Cruiser HOUSTON
who died battling alongside her ally
Perth, thrusting a final sting into any
target her guns would reach and when
she settled into the sea, there and then
her battle flag still flew and fluttered
to the waves in battle dress undeterred
by the total loss of the hull and guns
and the crew being unshipped and undone
for there was still a soul
that would play its roll
and yes, the Houston is remembered
and yes, her allies remember
and here they are every March First
in the city of Houston with mist
in some eyes and pride in all.
                                  Vic Campbell - February 2002
                                  almost 60 years after the loss of
                                  the heavy cruiserUSS Houston
                                  and the combined Allied Fleet
                                  in the Battles of The Java Sea
Other Poems and Rhymes: See the ship's Library: HERE
Another excellent poem about the battle HERE.
The Poems of Jack Smth, survivor, HERE
One of many poems by Lloyd Willy HERE.

One of the more eloquent stories from this amazing episode is the account of the lowly Chinese Mess Cook, hired on at Shanghai, who went down with the ship. His son was chosen as the only member of his family to leave China for a US citizenship (due to his Father's service) in the 1970's. Eric Lien is now a successful accountant in San Francisco.
He made an early and poignant entry into the guestbook on this site.  He comes to the reunions and memorial services in Houston every year.

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