“When General Quarters sounded I went to my battle station,” 96-year-old Pete Cahill of Cape Haze, Fla. recalled a lifetime later. “I was one of six lookouts atop a 20-foot pole in the bow of the heavy cruiser USS Quincy off Guadalcanal. It was somewhere around 2 a.m.
“We were hit with the first Japanese salvo. Our ship was in disarray,” the old salt said. “The bridge took the first hit. Everybody on the bridge was killed, including the captain.
“The ship was on fire and sinking!”
During the next 15 minutes Cahill and his shipmates took a pounding from the Japanese fleet consisting of seven cruisers and a destroyer. The Quincy was also torpedoed three times in the fight.
Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa sailed from New Britain and New Ireland to attack the Allied transports that brought 16,000 American Marines ashore with little resistance on Guadalcanal two days earlier. The “Leathernecks” dug in after capturing the partially built Japanese airstrip they dubbed “Henderson Field.”
Mikawa and his fleet caught Allied naval forces by surprise in the middle of the night. Enemy flares dropped from search planes surprised the unsuspecting crew of the Quincy. She was hit in a crossfire from the cruisers Aoba, Furutaka and Tenrya and moments later burst into flames.
As the American cruiser changed course to charge her Japanese attackers she was struck by a couple of torpedoes from Tenyuya that severely damaged the already flaming ship. At 2:15 a.m. the Quincy was struck by a third torpedo from Aoba which put her out of action.
“Everybody was abandoning ship. It was 15 or 20 minutes after we were first hit by enemy fire, Cahill said. “The captain was dead and the ship was sinking. It was time to get off.
“I went over the side without a life jacket and started swimming around in the dark sea,” he remembered. “There were a lot of people in the water with me who were dead or wounded. I started looking around for a life raft. I found a 4-foot raft that six of us held on to until daylight.
“A destroyer picked us up about 7 a.m. I don’t recall the ship’s name, but it was filled with wounded sailors. I had shrapnel wounds to my arms and legs,” Cahill said. “It took us to a transport where we were off loaded near Guadalcanal.“
The Japanese didn’t stay around, they fled the area by sun up. The enemy was concerned about the three American aircraft carriers that accompanied the Marines to the Canal that could cause them severe damage.
By the time Vice Admiral Mikawa pulled out with his fleet and headed home his ships had sunk three American heavy cruisers at Salvo Island off Guadalcanal: Quincy, Astoria, Vincennes and the Australia cruiser Canberra. It was one of the worse defeats for the U.S. Navy by the Japanese during the Second World War.
Cahill survived the “Battle of Savo Island,” but 370 of his shipmates didn’t. They ended up on the bottom of “Iron-bottom Sound” off the island.” Another 167 of the sailors aboard the Quincy were wounded in the naval battle.
The rest of his service during World War II was pretty uneventful. He made a couple of convoy trips in other ships to the Pacific Theatre of Operation. His last duty during the war was decommissioning ships in the St. Johns River near Jacksonville. He helped put other ships in mothballs.
He was discharged from the Navy in 1945 a chief petty officer.
Cahill returned to his Freehold, N.J. his home where he had grown up and became a carpenter. He retired in 1988. Cahill and his wife, Margaret, who have been married 65 years, moved to the Cape Haze 25 years ago. They have five children: Nancy, Dennis, Carol, Robert and Joan.
Name: Pete Cahill
D.O.B: 19 Nov. 1920
Hometown: Freehole, N.J.
Currently: CapeHaze, Fla.
Entered Service: 1940
Rank: Chief Petty Officer
Unit: USS Quincy
Commendations: Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Theatre Medal, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Battle of Savo Bay
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view the collections in alphabetical order in the Library of Congress. This veteran’s story may not yet be posted on this site, it could take anywhere from three to six months for the Library of Congress to process. Keep checking.
Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.
Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.