He served aboard light cruiser, USS Phoenix, during Pearl Harbor attack

Miles Carpenter of Park Forrest subdivision in Englewood, Fla. looks at a plaque listing the military engagements the light cruiser USS Phoenix took part in during World War II. He was a chief petty officer in the forward engine room of the ship throughout the war. Sun photo by Don Moore

“We were anchored at Pearl about 1,000 feet from Battleship Row when the Japs attacked,” the 85-year-old former sailor recalled. “We got underway in 17 minutes, but our path to the open sea was blocked by the battleship West Virginia that had been torpedoed and run up on a shoal to keep from sinking.”

Eventually the Phoenix and two other light cruisers escaped to the open sea, but by then the Japanese sunk almost all of the battleships in the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

“Three days later our ship returned to Pearl to escort three cruise ships full of officers’ wives and prostitutes back to San Francisco. We about wore our binoculars out watching the ladies aboard the cruise ships taking sun baths on deck on their way back to the USA,” the old salt said.

This is the USS Phoenix escaping the carnage caused by the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. Photo provided

“When we returned to Pearl Harbor we were to escort five troop ships full of Marines to Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the Japanese were winning the war there so we took them on to Melbourne, Australia.

“After that we escorted the USS Langley, our oldest carrier, to Java with a load of P-40 fighter planes aboard ship. The Langley was sunk shortly after we dropped her off and headed for Guadalcanal,” Carpenter said.

It was 1943 when the Phoenix received a respite. She returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for reconditioning. It was there, during the three months it took to repair the cruiser; he met Jeanne, whom he would marry after the war.

Carpenter kept this picture of Jean, his wife of 65 years, glued to his locker aboard the light cruiser Phoenix all through the Second World War in the Pacific. Photo provided

“I wrote her for two years and had her picture on my locker,” he said while smoking his pipe with a contented look on his face.

Before heading back to war in the Pacific the Phoenix provided transportation for Secretary of State Cordell Hull to a conference in Casablanca, North Africa.

“He was frightened of flying,” Carpenter said. “So we took him there and brought him back to the Sates. Then we sailed for the Pacific.”

He and the Phoenix went island hopping with MacArthur. Carpenter and the cruiser took part in 25 battles many of which MacArthur was involved in the Pacific. “MacArthur was on our ship on several occasions. He was rather aloof,” Carpenter said. “I recall one time when he was aboard the USS Nashville, our sister ship, and Tokyo Rose came on the radio and said, ‘Mac we know what ship you’re on and you in for trouble.’

“The general transferred to our ship almost immediately. A short time later Kamikazes attacked the Nashville and killed 117 men. MacArthur was smart enough to get off the Nashville in time,” he said.

Miles and Jean are pictured on their wedding day in Philadelphia shortly after he was discharged from the Navy in September 1945. Photo provided

“The Phoenix took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest and last ship-to-ship battle in history,” Carpenter said. “We were in the Battle of the Surigao Straits that began about 3 a.m. and during the next two hours we wiped them out completely. When it was over two Jap battleships, four cruisers and I didn’t know how many enemy destroyers were sunk. We only lost one man in a kamikaze attack during that battle.”

Even though the war was winding down it didn’t get any easier.

“We rescued survivors from an American ship that struck an enemy mine off Borneo. From there we sailed into Leyte Gulf and back around to Manila in the Philippines,” he said. “I just missed being booby trapped when I went ashore in the Philippines for a little R and R and pulled a sticker off a box of Jap beer. After I left it blew up a few minutes later when someone tried to take some beers from the box.

“I was also almost washed overboard when I tried to deliver a message from the engine room to the bridge during a 150 mph typhoon, Carpenter said. “That storm almost got me.”

When the war was over and all the fighting was through, the day after Col. Paul Tibbits dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima from a B-29 bomber named for his mother, Enola Gay, Chief Machinist Mate Carpenter, along with the rest of the crew, stood on the Phoenix’s deck and sipped brandy out of paper cups to celebrate their victory.

He then sailed home and married Jeanne in March 1946 and they lived happily ever after. The Carpenters moved to this area 44 years ago.


Carpenter’s File

Name: Vergus Miles Carpenter
D.O.B: 4 November 1923
Hometown: Oklahoma, Okla.
Current: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 11 August 1940
Discharged: 15 September 1945
Rank: Chief Petty Officer
Unit: USS Phoenix
Commendations: The ship and its crew received the: Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon with nine battle stars for nine major conflicts. Philippine Liberation Medal with two battle stars, Presidential Unit Citation, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, American Defense Medal with Fleet Clasp, American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Campaigns/Battles: Pearl Harbor; Guadalcanal; Cape Glo‘Cester; Madang Bombardment; Los Negros Landing; Seeadler Harbor Bombardment; Hollandia Landing; Sawar-Weakde Bombardment; Sarmetoem-Wakde Landing; Biak Island Landing; Aircraft Action off Biak; Noemfoor Island Landing; Cape Sansapor Landing; Moroteai Island Landing; Leyte Landing; Battle of Surigao Straits; Aircraft Action Leyte Gulf; Mindoro Operation; Lingayen San Antonio Nasugbu; Zamboanga Mindanao Landing; Cebu City, Cebu Landing; Corregidor-Mariveles; Tarakan, Dutch Borneo Landing; Brunei Bay, Borneo; Balikpapa, Borneo


This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2010 and is republished with permission.

Click here to view Carpenter’s Collection in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.

Click here to view the War Tales Facebook fan page.


Comments

  1. I served in the armed forces, both in the enlisted ranks and then later as a commissioned officer. The social habits of officers are no different than any other men. However, there is no evidence that the women escorted back to San Fransisco were anything other than wives, fiancees, or girl friends. The comment that they were officer’s prostitutes “officer’s wives and prostitutes” is malicious, misleading, and written in extremely poor taste. Think about it!!!!!!

  2. My name is Dustin johnson, my grandpa served on the uss Phoenix. I was wondering if you knew him, and if so could you tell me anything about him. His name was comer Johnson, I believe he was a gunners mate. Any info would be great thanks

    SGT Johnson USMC

      • Dustin,
        I have nothing on your gradfather, but there is an old sailor in Englewood who served aboard the Phoenix during all of WW II. He was there at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attack and sailed out of the harbor on the Phoenix. I can’t rmemeber his namebut his name, but if you Google Phoenix on my website his name will come up. He’s in the phone book. Call him and maybe he can tell you something.
        Regards,
        Don Moore
        Sun Newspapers

  3. My name is Joe Brennan. My Great Grandfather John Brennan was a boilermaker who died on The Phoenix in early August 1943 when the ship was being overhauled at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Allegedly, a boiler exploded and he was burned bad enough to die a week or 2 later from his injuries. I was wondering if you knew anything about it?

    joe.brennan226@gmail.com

  4. My Father, deceased, was Ltjg Austin Sobczak. He talked little about his service aboard the Phoenix but for an accident when a boat load of crew on liberty was going ashore and foundered. I think they all died and he never forgot the stench of the rotting corpses in the tropic heat the next day.

  5. hi i have that same plauqe that your holding, it was my grandfathers. I’m so happy to see that someone else kept theres i also live in tampa,fl so it even more cool to me knowing its in the same state.

  6. My grandpa, Joseph Grayson Williams served with you on the phoenix. He was known as “Willie the Boot”. He was busted for moonshining in georgia, and given the choice of joining the military or going to jail. He died from a heart attack in the early 80’s. I am trying to research his life, and thought maybe you may have met him. He never liked to talk about the war. If you didn’t know him, maybe you have some leads I could follow to find out more. Thank you for your time, and story. It is important to me to see what he experienced on the Phoenix.

  7. My father, James Sheppard of Philadelphia, and his brother-in-law, Nicholas Iannacone, also of Philadelphia were both on the cruiser U.S.S. Phoenix when Pearl was hit, Both are deceased. As others, they did not speak of the War much and as children, we asked few questions. My brothers and I have questions about their experience during that time and our children also would like to know the history. My daughter did some digging and located a man who was on the Phoenix. He referred her to a book which she acquired along with some other data. However, we would perhaps like more personal accounts of what happened. Any further information would be greaty appreciated.
    Rosemary Small Washington Twp., (Gloucester County) NJ

    • My grandfather Stanley Passage served aboard the Phoenix do you remember him? He began serving on the Phoenix even before Pearl Harbor.

  8. My Dad also served on the Phoenix from 1943 to 1946 as a shipfitter. I remember seeing that plaque as a child but I don’t know what’s become of it…Does anyone know if that plaque is still available anywhere for purchase?

  9. My father, Eugene Henry, served aboard the U.S.S. Phoenix from May, 1941 until the wars end. He is still alive (age 91) and resides in Independence, Mo. He was a boiler operator (not sure if that is the correct title). He still has his copy of the plaque.

    • Clyde –
      I hope someone sits down with him and records his recollections of his time in WWII. Whomever does it can submit it and supporting documentation to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project for the Folk Life Museum. Click on the link beneath this story to take you to the Library of Congress page.

      Let me know if it happens.

      Thanks for reading War Tales and for sharing about your dad.

    • Clyde, Can you ask your father if he remembers my Great Grandfather who died on the Phoenix when it was being overhauled in Philadelphia in August 1943.His name was John Brennan, he was also was a boiler maker, supposedly the boiler exploded and he succumbed to his burns. Thanks Clyde.

  10. Going back to his account of getting underway within the harbor, it would have been the battleship Nevada which had been run aground after being torpedoed. The West Virginia never got underway on Dec 7, and was sunk at its anchorage, its decks awash.

  11. My uncle was an ensign on the USS Phoenix at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. His recollections of that day, which he relayed to me, will be with me for the rest of my life. His name was Ralph Pottker.

  12. My dad was on Phoenix as well in the Philippines He was a radioman. He also played piano in the bars there when they had time off. Bernie Whelly was his name.

    • My father was also a radioman on the USS Phoenix at Pearl Harbor. Max Shaw. He passed in 1990. He loved Australia…he spoke of that often….not so much about the war though.

  13. My wife’s grandfather was a doctor on the Phoenix. His name was Commander Roger Holcomb. We enjoy looking at many of his photos – especially the ones from the Battle of Leyte.

    • Mr. Wilson,

      Are the photographs you mentioned posted online anywhere? I think they would be wonderful to see.

  14. My father was on the Phoenix. His name was Bernie Whelly. he was a radioman. He also played piano.He came on at philly when the ship was there in 43. Anyone remember him? he is gone but aint forgotten

  15. My Dad was on the Phoenix. He has the same plaque. I never thought I would see another one. He was on the 20MM Guns between the smoke stacks. He recently sat down and did an interview with the Library of Congress for an interview. His name is Nat. Does anyone remember him?

  16. My father served on the Phoenix and like so many others never liked to talk about the war. His name was Albert C. Burger from Philadelphia. I have only recently started to reserch the role of the Phoenix in WWII and have found this page and comments very interesting. I regret not having asked him about it before his passing in 2001.

    • Bruce, My father, Eugene F. Henry, served on the Phoenix during the entire war, from Pearl Harbor until the Japanese surrender. His primary assignment was in the boiler rooms. He was also an ammunition handler for one of the 5″ guns. He is 93 years old and still quite clear in his mind. He will answer questions if asked. I can pass along any query you might have.

  17. My uncle served on the Phoenix and I bet he and Miles knew each other. James Vallandingham from Carlisle County KY. Now deceased. He was also on board the morning of the attack. Two things I remember him saying about his experiences. “Even when the Japs weren’t attacking you, they would worry you to death.” and… he said one of the worst things was when the ship was just sitting out in the ocean for days, with nothing happening, just waiting for something to happen. Jim also met a girl on shore leave when the ship was anchored in Philadelphia. He married her, Aunt Evelyn – still living – they had 1 girl and 3 boys. I don’t know Jim’s sailor duties, but as a civilian he was a carpenter and a good one. Mom had 6 sibs, Jim was closest to her in age, and her favorite brother. He had a kind heart and would give you anything he had. Mom is the only one of those sibs still alive – she is 93.
    Paul Koehler

  18. My Dad, Bill Feeney from Dubuque, Iowa served on the Phoenix from 1940-1944 as a welder/shipfitter, and fire control spotter in a upper level turret, Not sure port or starboard. Do any ship mates recall the downing of a Japanese aircraft at Pearl harbor by the USS Phoenix early in the attack? Parts of the plane hit the ship after exploding. Please contact me if there is any recollection.

  19. I just found out my late uncle, Rea Hartis, served on the Phoenix during the war. I don’t know the years served or even his rank. I would appreciate anyone that remembers him leaving a note or contacting me.

  20. My father Chester B. Onoszko served aboard the USS phoenix at Pearl Harbor from 1939. I would appreciate anyone that remembers him to contact me. Does anyone have pictures of the crew?

  21. Steve Blazer
    My uncle. Charles Conley was aboard the USS Phoenix on Dec. 7th, 1941.
    Like many others he wouldn’t talk about that day or the war. I would ask his mom, my grandmother, and she would say he want talk about it. He’s been gone several years now and I still wonder about him and that terrible day, if anyone could give me any info about his time on the Phoenix it would be greatly appreciated. I was at Pearl Harbor a few years ago and was able to see where the Phoenix was sitting during the bombing.
    All of us who had relatives aboard the Phoenix can be very proud, they served well and honor our families. For all those who are gone I hope you have found your peace, for the few who are still alive God Bless and thank you.

  22. Good afternoon, my grandfather was aboard the USS Phoenix on December 7, 1941. My grandfather wouldn’t talk much about his experience during the war. It wasn’t until recently (Dec 7, 2016) that he sat down with a newspaper reporter and then a local news reporter who were doing a special on Pearl Harbor survivors. My grandfather is still alive and doing well at the age of 94. If anyone has information on where I can find creditable information about the USS Phoenix (CL-46) and survivors I would love to hear from you. He called me the other night asking if I could print a picture of the USS Phoenix sailing out of the port. I was happy to help him with that simple request. Unfortunately, the picture that he had hanging in the den showed the boat on fire. And yes, he still has his plaque hanging there too.

    I would love to share some of these stories with him and/or get him in contact with some of the other survivors. My email is brookeh5530@gmail.com.
    Brooke H.

  23. my dad served on Phoenix in 1944, he was in engine room ,he got to see MacArthur, Floyd C. Dean, he passed in 2010.

  24. bUENAS nOCHES. Mi padre sirvio en el A.R.A. GRAL BELGRANO o como ud lo conocio USS PHOENIX. mis saludos a ud y mis respetos. Sabra disculpar el atrevimiento. Ud tendria algun escudo del USS PHOENIX? GRACIAS.

    ATTE. Marcelo

  25. My dad, Frank S. Scala (deceased, 1989) was also stationed aboard the USS Phoenix on Dec 7, 1941 and throughout the war. I believe he worked in the engine room. He never spoke of his experiences; we sensed that he preferred not to remember, so we just never asked.
    He is survived by his wife, Antoinette (Anne) now age 96, two children, Frank E. Scala and Gina Scala Cory, three grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
    I remember how badly he felt when the ship was renamed and scrapped after the Falklands War. We are all so proud of him and miss him very much. Of course we wish we knew men who knew him; we wish we knew more.
    Thank you for keeping the memory of this ship and its brave sailors alive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s