The light cruiser USS Helena, named after Montana’s capital city, was sunk during the Battle of Kula Gulf in the Solomon Islands during the night of July 6, 1943 as it fired on several Japanese ships. The Helena, illuminated by the constant muzzle flashes of its’ guns, was an easy target, and was soon struck by three Japanese torpedoes, which broke the back of the ship. It sank in 860 meters of water. On March 23, 2018, nearly 75 years after the USS Helena was sunk, Microsoft founder Paul Allen announced that his R/V Petrel team had located the wreckage.
The Helena was badly damaged during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was towed to Mare Island California, where it underwent extensive repairs, including installation of a state-of-the-art radar. While it underwent repairs, the ship’s crew honed their gunnery skills. After the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Helena was sent to the Solomon Islands, where it participated in two major sea battles, the Battle of Cape Esperance and the Battle of Guadalcanal during the fall of 1942. The new radar and the gunnery skills of the crew made the Helena a fearsome adversary, and the Japanese Navy was fooled into believing that the Americans had developed fully automatic naval guns.
I was recently contacted by a Dutch tourist whose son found this item on Omaha Beach in Normandy. If anyone has seen something similar or can positively identify this, please add a comment. I told the person who sent it to me that I would let them know if anyone can identify what it is.
My friend Robert M. Brown has published a new book on Captain Charles Rawn and the Frontier Infantry in Montana, published by History Press in 2016.
Bob asked me to write a foreword for the book, which I was happy to do and which can be found below. Check it out. It’s a good book!
Foreword to Captain Charles Rawn and the Frontier Infantry In Montana by Robert M. Brown
I first encountered Captain Charles Rawn on a fine spring day at the site of Fort Fizzle, scene of a confrontation in Montana’s Lolo Canyon between hundreds of Nez Perce warriors and a small contingent of U.S. Army soldiers and local civilians. Dressed in an impeccable blue uniform trimmed with gold braid, wearing a black campaign hat and armed with a single-action pistol, Captain Rawn cut an imposing figure as he described the events of the 1877 Nez Perce War to a group of local schoolchildren. They listened raptly as Rawn described his role as leader of the small force at Fort Fizzle and told of his unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a peaceful surrender with the Nez Perce leaders, including Looking Glass, White Bird, and Joseph.Most of the schoolchildren who learned the story of Fort Fizzle from Major Rawn never realized that the uniformed figure who portrayed Rawn was in fact Dr. Robert M. Brown, the Executive Director of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Rawn was the founder and first commander of Fort Missoula, and Dr. Brown spent years researching his historic alter-ego, making him uniquely qualified to write the story of one of the little known but important figures of the frontier army.Whole bookshelves have been filled with biographies of a few prominent soldiers who fought the Indian wars, in particular Lt. Col. George A. Custer, who famously lost his entire battalion after a rash attack on a vastly superior force. On the other hand there has been little written of the everyday lives of the mid-level officers of the frontier army, those men who were focused on doing their jobs and keeping their men alive, rather than seeking fame and promotion.Rawn was raised in an upper middle class family in Pennsylvania, yet chose a career that would take him away from the comforts of civilization for years at a time. He and his family would spend most of their lives in a near lawless land where a small number of soldiers were tasked with keeping an uneasy peace between newly arrived settlers and the Native Americans who had occupied the land for millennia.It is telling that when the U.S. Army drastically downsized at the end of the Civil War, many well-regarded officers were mustered out of service. Rawn on the other hand was not only retained as an officer, but kept his war-time rank of captain while many of his peers faced major reductions in rank. Rawn’s story provides insight into the hardships experienced by those who chose a career in the post-war military, which for most officers proved a thankless job with little chance for advancement and was often characterized by a frustrating series of postings to remote forts. Who were these men who chose to serve their country for little pay or recognition? What motivated them to remain as career military officers despite harsh living conditions? In Captain Charles Rawn and the Frontier Infantry in Montana, Dr. Brown has given us a rare and long overdue insight into the day-to-day lives of the front-line officers who were the backbone of the frontier army during the last half of the Nineteenth Century.Gary Glynn, author of That Beautiful Little Post: The Story of Fort Missoula