Many of the memories of the Battle of Guadalcanal are still as clear in my mind as are those of Pearl Harbor. As a matter of fact, I have more detailed visual images of November 13, 1942 than I do of December 7, 1941. This is true primarily because I was topside on the Helena and could see as well as feel what was going on.
My battle station during General Quarters was in Battle Two (Batt II) which was the Conning Station equipped to take over the control of the ship if the pilot house on the bridge was disabled. The executive officer, Commander Linke, was stationed there so that he could take over command of the ship if anything happened to the Captain. My job was that of phone talker stationed by the engine order telegraph. As long as the Captain and the bridge were intact, I had little to do except relay voice messages that came over the headphones. This gave me plenty of time to observe the action taking place outside.
The details of the battle on the night of November 13 are far too numerous to describe. However, some of the action is more indelibly recorded in the memory of events than others and I will list a few of my most vivid images here and now.
Shortly after the battle started, I remember a searchlight being turned on the Helena. I stared down that funnel of light thinking it was booking solely for me and that the next shot that would be fired from the ship behind that light was going to hit me right in the belly button. Luckily for me the Helena had her guns trained on that ship and she let loose a volley of gunfire that turned the light off before the enemy ship had a chance to fire at us.
During the battle I remember seeing stars. They were of two types. There were star shells in the sky and then there were little stars in my eyes. The latter were the kind you see in cartoons when the character gets hit over the head by a two by four. I don't know where they came from or how they got there, but I am convinced to this day that it was simply a case of sheer fright hitting me.
On another occasion in the middle of the battle, I thought I felt little pieces of debris bounce off my life jacket. Since it hadn't done me any harm I ignored it and went on watching the fireworks in the sky and shell splashes in the water. After the battle was over a hole was discovered in the bulkhead of Batt II and the base of a 5 inch shell, which had put a dent in the engine order telegraph on the other side of which I was standing, was found flat on the deck just inches away from my left foot. The debris I felt earlier must have been the insulating material from the bulkhead. My lucky stars were still with me. Later we found out that the shell base was from a shell that hit the searchlight platform outside Batt II and killed an electrician mate named Harris.
Perhaps the most vivid memory of the November 13 battle occurred at approximately 11.00 in the morning after the battle was over. Five of the six ships that survived the battle intact enough to steam under their own power had been collected by Helena's Captain Hoover to head back to Espiritu Santo. The ships were the San Francisco, Helena, Juneau, Fletcher and Sterett. The sixth ship, the O'Bannon, had been sent ahead to radio a message to Admiral Halsey.
On the Helena, Captain Hoover had secured the ship from General Quarters and set a condition that called for standing one four hour watch on duty and four hours off. My assignment was on the bridge in the pilot house as helmsman. While steering the ship I had the opportunity to glance out the port holes and I saw the condition of the San Francisco and the Juneau. I remember commenting to one of the men in the pilot house that the San Francisco look so beat up that she would be lucky to make it back to Espiritu Santo, but that the Juneau, while she was down by the bow, still looked seaworthy enough to make it back
Shortly thereafter, however, Lt. Comdr. Carpenter, the ship's navigator, who seldom left the bridge, shouted, "Hard right rudder, DeLong." I spun the rudder over hard right and started singing out the course changes every ten degrees. I glanced out the port hole as the bow swung past the line of sight to the Juneau who had been on our starboard quarter in the formation. The ship was swinging at a rapid speed now and I had no idea what was going on.
Suddenly, Comdr. Carpenter hollered, "Hard left rudder." I reversed the rudder, but the momentum was still carrying the ship to the right. The ship shuddered for several seconds and slowly started to turn left when an immense explosion took place. I glanced out the port hole and all I could see was a huge cloud in the direction the Juneau had been.
By this time the Helena was making good time through the water again and picking up momentum heading straight for the cloud. The wheel was still turned hard left and I had no idea where either the Juneau or the San Francisco were. Total silence reigned in the pilot house and on the wings of the bridge.
Now it was my turn to shout! "Where is she? Where is she? Where is she? I don't want to ram her!" Everyone was out on the wing of the bridge except me and no one other than myself was talking.
Finally, one of the sailors stuck his head in the door and quietly said, "DeLong, she ain't nor more." I didn't fully understand what he meant but I decided to ease the rudder lest it bang against the stops and get stuck. I was a little late but in time enough to keep the rudder from jamming. There was a jolt as the rudder hit the stop, but it was light enough so there was no jamming.
The people that had gone outside now filled me in with what had happened. The Juneau didn't sink; she was blown up. Everyone had seen pieces of her flying through the sky. The largest piece was reported as one of her five inch gun mounts flying over the Helena.
Captain Hoover wisely decided to save all the ships he could and decided not to stop to look for survivors - no one though there would be any. Even if there were, the subs might still be around and more ships and men could be lost.
As a footnote to this event, many years later, I ran across Lt. Comd. Carpenter (by that time Admiral Carpenter) at a Helena reunion and he filled in some details that I hadn't known. We were seated across from each other at a dinner table. We were all telling sea stories and I started telling them my story - (I had forgotten that it was Commander Carpenter who had issued the orders to the wheel). Right in the middle of my story Carpenter looked at me and said, "And do you know who issued those orders?" When I admitted that I didn't remember, but wished that I could, he replies, "I did." The minute he said that, I remembered.
From that point on he took over the story. He told us that in the early part of his career he had taken special training on spotting and tracing torpedo wakes and that was one of the reasons he felt a little safer when he was on the bridge in treacherous waters. As a result of his early training he was the first one to see the wakes of the two torpedoes coming from the port side. Both torpedoes went between the Helena and the San Francisco and when both ships turned, the torpedoes went past us and one of them hit the Juneau. We were not able to warn the Juneau in time to save her.
George A. DeLong
GEORGE ALBERT DELONG (JR)
George was born in Annville, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania on 26th June 1922. After graduating from Annville High School in 1940 he went to work at the A.S. Kreider Hosiery Factory, Annville, Pa. In January 1941 he joined the U.S. Navy to "see the world." He was sent to Newport, Rhode Island for two months of boot camp. He was then transferred to San Diego, California for four months of training in Quartermaster school. Upon graduation he was sent to Mare Island, San Francisco to report for duty on the battleship USS Oklahoma.
The ship operated with the U.S. Pacific Fleet out of Pearl Harbor, Territorial Hawaii, until 7 December 1941, when she capsized sin the harbor during the Japanese attack. George was trapped aboard the ship for one and a half days (32 hours) until he was rescued at approximately 4.00 pm on Monday, 8 December 1941. He was then taken to the hospital ship USS Solace for one night. He was released the next morning and told to report to the USS Helena for duty.
In late January or early February 1942 the USS Helena returned to the U.S. for major repairs to her engine room which had been damaged by Japanese torpedoes on 7 December 1941. The crew was given leave while the ship was being repaired at San Francisco.
In late August or early September, upon completion of repairs the USS Helena crossed the Pacific and joined elements of the Pacific Fleet stationed at Espiritu Santos with orders to operate in the Solomon Islands area. George participated in approximately 5 or 6 battles while in the Solomons. The most notable battles being Cape Esperance on 11 October 1942 and Guadalcanal on 13 November 1942.
Late in June 1943 he received orders to return to the U.S. to go to prep school for the U.S. Naval Academy. He was transferred to the USS Mormack Hawk for passage to San Francisco. (The USS Helena was sunk a few days later in the battle of Kula Gulf.)
Upon arrival in the U.S. it was discovered that the delays, which prevented a timely transfer during wartime, had canceled the possibility of attending the Naval Academy, since no one is allowed to enter who over the age of 21.
His next assignment was to shore duty at the San Diego Naval Base as a teacher. One year later (approximately June 1944) he was transferred to a cargo ship, the US crater, which carried cargo to numerous ports in the Pacific. It was docked in Auckland, New Zealand on VJ day. He then returned to Pearl Harbor and transferred to the Commodore's staff aboard the USS Dixie for duty at Bikini for the A bomb test. He then returned to the U.S.
Upon his discharge from the Navy 6 January 1947, he took advantage of the GI bill and entered Lebanon Valley College, Annville, Pennsylvania, September 1947. While at LVC he was President of the Wig and Buckle Society. He was married 5 August 1950, between his junior and senior years at college, to a fellow classmate, Jeanne Stine. They graduated from LVC in June 1951. George received a BA degree with majors in English and Political Science.
George and Jeanne then moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where George worked as a management trainee for B.F. Goodrich. In 1954 they moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania when George started to work for RCA as a foreman in the black and whit3e picture tube department, industrial specialist and a number of other assignments. He worked at RCA until February 1971.
From 1971 to 1980 he was the Deputy Secretary of Labor and Industry for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. e lost this job when the Republicans won the next election!
His next job was as an Industrial Specialist with the U.S. Department of Defense. He retired in 1987.
His activity in the community was primarily as Chairman of the Lancaster County Democratic Party, president of the Board of Trustees at the Lancaster Unitarian Church and President of the local chapter of the National Council of Christians and Jews (NCCJ). In 1966 he unsuccessfully ran for the Pennsylvania State Senate on the Democratic ticket. (His Senatorial District had a 3 to 1 voter registration in favor of the Republicans!) He also raised funds for the United Way, Cancer Society and Boy Scouts.
He was a member of the Pearl Habor Survivors Association, USS Oklahoma Association, USS Crater Association, USS Helena Association, Annville Post American Legion, Harrisburg Post VFW, Lancaster County Historical Society and Lancaster Unitarian Church.
Since his retirement he enjoyed attending Navy reunions to swap stories with his former ship mates. He was kept busy speaking to numerous groups about his Pearl Harbor experience. His Pearl Harbor story was featured in the December 1991 issue of the National Geographic magazine; a young people's book "Attack on Pearl Harbor," by Shelley Tanaka; "Pearl Harbor, Day of Infamy," by Dan van der Vat and "USS Oklahoma, Story of a Great Lady," by Joe Todd.
In 1991 he attended the 50th Anniversary Ceremonies of the Attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and in 1992 he revisited the Philippines, Australia and Guadalcanal areas where ceremonies were held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of battles fought. In 2001 he attended the 60th Anniversary Ceremonies in Hawaii along with his grandson, Ryan Tallmadge.
George and Jeanne celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on 5 August 2000. They are the parents of three children and four grandchildren. Their son David resides with his wife Karen in Culpepper, VA; daughter Andrea resides in Lancaster with her husband, Larry Kranz, and two sons, Roger and Ryan Tallmadge; daughter Gayle resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jonathan Rose, and two daughters Jennifer and Flora Rose.
George died on March 22, 2002 of a blood clot, the day following prostate surgery. He was buried at the Indiantown Gap Military Cemetery with full military honors.
April 1, 2003
MEMOIRS OF GEORGE DELONG
On 15 September 1942, while protecting a convoy of six transports carrying the 7th Marine Regiment from Espiritu Santos to Guadalcanal, the USS Wasp was sunk by a Japanese submarine. My ship, the USS Helena, was part of the task force accompanying the Wasp at the time I was standing watch in central station when the general quarters' alarm went off shortly after the first torpedo hit the carrier. Since I was stationed below decks on my watch and my general quarters station was topside in the battle two conning tower, I could hardly wait at my post until I was relieved to go topside. After my experience at Pearl Harbor, having been trapped below decks, I was anxious to get topside because I felt more secure there. Furthermore, I was curious to see what was going on out there. It only took me a few seconds to get to my battle station once my relief arrived.
When I got there, I realized that the Wasp had been hit by three torpedoes. Smoke was billowing out of her and she had taken a hard list to port. Some of her planes were in the sky but couldn't land on her since her flight deck was slanted to about 20 or 30 degrees. Some of the pilots landed their planes on the USS Hornet that was operating over the horizon from us. Others were forced to gently crash their planes in the water and then swim to the nearest destroyer who would pick them up.
Many of the sailors slid down lines or dove in the water and were picked up by escorting destroyers. About 300 of them were transferred to the Helena and we took them back to Espiritu Santos.
The Wasp stayed afloat until dusk when the decision was made to sink her, since she was damaged too badly to be salvaged. Her escorting destroyers delivered the coup de grace.
Those of us who were with her that day realized the great loss we had suffered. Carriers were invaluable in those days since we had so few. The Wasp was one of the most majestic ships in the US Navy at the time and all hands regretted her passing.