Ronald Crawford Biles
¬¬It was just a little island, far out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The island consisted of a dinky military airport, a small post with a few military personal assigned there, and some native population which make up the entire inhabitants of the atoll. My flight had been late in arriving, thus I'd missed my connecting flight out, and to say that I was pissed as hell was an understatement. Here I was, stuck on some God forsaken rock out in the middle of nowhere. The time-line was the mid 60's, well before cell phones and the Internet, and I now found myself stuck in Podunks-ville with no way to tell anybody where I was.
I'd just finished a sandwich, which had left me wondering why I had eaten it, and I was trying my best to keep a positive attitude about my situation. I remembered a book I'd stuck in one of my bags along the way, and I dug it out. I curled up to wait out my sentence until the next flight came through to rescue me, and take me on to my destination.
I'd been reading my book for a couple of hours when Mother Nature informed me I needed to go and find the men's room. As I stood at the urinal, a man entered, and when I looked over at him, I noticed the silver-stars shining on his epaulets indicating he was an Admiral. I'd finished with my business, and as I zipped up my trouser, I turned, and faced him. I thought I saw his eyes widen when he looked at me, and I nodded my head at him. Since I was just a lowly Lieutenant Junior Grade, we didn't have much in common, so I stepped up to the sink, washed my hands, and returned to my chair to read some more on my book.
Do you ever get a feeling that someone is watching you? Something starts a tingling inside of your head, and when you turn and look, you actually catch somebody looking at you. I got that feeling, and when I turned, the Admiral I'd seen earlier in the bathroom, was staring at me. He seemed a bit uncomfortable I'd caught him staring, but he didn't turn his gaze away from me. I watched as he got up and came over to me. Since there is huge distance between our two ranks, military courtesy demanded I stand immediately.
The Admiral was wearing a well-tailored uniform covered with various ribbons and medals. Anyone who has been in the service knows that ribbons and medals worn by an individual tell a lot about their career. The rows of ribbons on this jacket represented a history of note; his jacket told me this was not some desk-bound wanna-be, but instead he was the real deal. His involvement in more than one battle situation over the years was very obvious. There was Purple along with several valor ribbons across his chest and I felt he was an officer who deserved respect for who he was, not for the uniform he wore.
He appeared to be in his late 40's, perhaps early 50's, and his deep blue eyes were crinkled around the edges from staring off across the ocean for countless hours. His close-cropped hair was salt and pepper and he looked extremely fit. I couldn't help but wonder what an Admiral was doing stuck on this dot in the middle of nowhere.
As he stepped up to me, he smiled at me and said, "Excuse the intrusion son, but I noticed your name, Biles." I nodded my head. I wasn't frightened, but it wasn't every day I was approached by an Admiral who asked to be excused for bothering me and I wondered what was happening. "I was good friends with a man who looked just like you. So much like you I was actually startled in the restroom. And he spelled his name the same way you do. His name was Ronald Crawford Biles. Have you ever heard of him?"
The room got suddenly very hot, and the world seemed to tilt a little, this was more than just a little weird. I found it difficult to speak and finally I croaked out, "Yes sir; that was my father who died in World War II. My name is Richard Biles."
He extended his hand, and as we shook, he explained, "Actually your dad and I were best friends, and we were roommates on the USS Bates. Would you like to hear the story about how he died?"
And the hits kept coming; was this guy kidding? Mom and I had spent the past 20 years trying to convince the Navy to give us some information about dad's death. All we kept getting was that it was top secret. I've never even heard the name USS Bates before. The government wouldn't even tell us if they had ever recovered a body, and if it had, where it went. They wouldn't tell us how he died, or where he died. All we ever received was the run-a-round, and here in the middle of no-where was somebody who knew something about dad, and wondered if I wanted to know the story. I blurted out, "Excuse me sir, but hell yes I want to know. Mom and I have tried for... '
The Admiral help up his hand, and smiled, "I know son, I know. The Navy contacted me once, and I approved the release of some information to you two about your father, but the Navy disagreed with me. If you have some time, I'd like to tell you the story."
"Sir, I'm stuck here because I missed my connection due to my flight being late. Right now all I have is time, sir."
He chuckled, as he asked me, "Do you know if this place has a bar?" Then he laughed as he continued, "By the way, for what it's worth, even an Admiral can become stuck out in the middle of nowhere." I wondered what that meant, but I was not going to grill an Admiral how he ended up stuck out here.
"I don't know, but let's find out sir." We wandered around the terminal with no luck, but they told us that just a few miles down the road was a nice hotel, which had an excellent bar. Since we were both stuck for a few hours on this desolate rock, we decided to catch a cab and go to the hotel. Once settled at a table with an amazing view of the ocean, we ordered, and the two of us settled into our chairs.
The Admiral unbuttoned his jacket, and took it off, casually placing it on the chair next to our table, and I took mine off as well. After he pulled his tie down a little, he loosened his collar and extended his hand. With a big warm smile he introduced himself. "By the way, my name is Admiral Joshua Howard. I knew your father back when we were both students at the University of Washington. We'd tried to keep in touch as best we could after we left the U, but they moved both of us around a lot, and then in early summer of '43 I was assigned to a brand new ship, the USS Bates.
"I don't know exactly where they stationed your dad at that time, but our ship originally just sailed escort duty to England, and later they converted her to a high-speed transport. As I recall it was in late October of '43. They had us headed to the Pacific theater where your father joined the ship when we stopped off in San Diego.
"What you probably don't know was your dad was brilliant at mining a harbor. A couple of harbors were done so well, the Japanese never could sail into them until after the war when we cleared the harbor of mines. While Bates was in the close vicinity of the Hawaiian and Caroline Islands, she was actively involved with Underwater Demolition activities. Our job involved testing your father's designs, and ideas on mining harbors, but it was all completely top secret.
"In the original orders the plan was for Bates' active involvement with the invasion of Okinawa. But, because of your dad, Bates was mainly involved in mining various harbors. One time there was a destroyer called the USS Morris, I believe. Anyway, a Japanese suicide aircraft hit her, and we could only pick up a couple dozen sailors, as the ship sank. That was about as close to any battles in Okinawa as we got.
"All during this time your father was actively involved in the planning of the mining of Tokyo Harbor. He was very active in the plans to end the war, and mining Tokyo Harbor was one of the really big things we wanted to complete. Even though everything your dad was doing was Top Secret, our Naval Intelligence knew the Japanese were aware of your fathers work, and there was a bounty on his head. As the time grew closer for us to start mining Tokyo Harbor, things became even more hush-hush. For a while they told your dad and I that they were not going allow us to room together, but finally calmer heads prevailed, and they left us alone."
The Admiral stared off over the distance across the ocean and I could tell he was back on board the old ship as he reminisced. The way he talked made me feel perhaps he no longer realized I was even sitting there beside him. "It was just after lunch, May 25 of '44. We were patrolling about two miles south of le Shima, Okinawa when Bates was attacked by Japanese aircraft. Before they attacked us, your dad told me he felt tired, so he headed off to take a nap in our cabin while I stayed on the upper decks. As I stood there, I watched as the first Japanese plane flew among our ships until he picked out Bates, then he came over and flew around our ship twice.
"The thing that was weird was usually the first plane will come straight down into one of the smoke stacks, or at least come in at an angle towards the wheel house. The plan the Japanese pilots used was to come in at an angle which would make it very difficult to shoot the plane down, and when the pilot hit his target, it caused the most damage." As Admiral told his story he held his palm flat to demonstrate how the planes would come down towards the ships. "Like I said, this plane just flew around Bates, and when it finally turned toward the ship, it aimed directly at our cabin where your father was sleeping. The plane never wavered, it just came in straight, and hit directly where your dad was.
"Well, shit hit the fan over that, but that's another story. Another Japanese plane came along shortly, and dropped a bomb, which ruptured the starboard hull of the ship, and then crashed into the starboard side of the fantail. The third aircraft, almost simultaneously, made a suicide hit on the pilothouse. A fourth made a bombing run scoring a near miss amidships, hit our port side, and ruptured the hull. Before noon our CO had ordered Bates abandoned since the ship was compete ablaze. Twenty-one of her crew was either dead, or missing from the attacks. That afternoon a tug was finally able to toss a line on-board, and they towed Bates to an anchorage where around mid-night, still on fire, she capsized, and sank in about 120 feet of water.