Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Lake Barrington, IL) Emmett (“Em”) Parsons was raised in the Long Island town of Glen Cove, NY. He attended high school in nearby Mineola with his future wife, Marion. After graduating in 1943 he held a few jobs including a stint at Sperry Rand Corporations, a manufacturer of gyroscopes, where he worked in the mailroom. Soon his Uncle Sam came calling and Emmett said goodbye to Sperry Rand and enlisted in the Navy. He did not say good-bye, however, to gyroscopes. Em attended Basic Training at the Sampson US Navy Training Center near Geneva, NY and completed technical training as an electrician in Newburgh NY. The newly minted Electrician 3rd Class Emmett Parsons was assigned to the USS Aucilla (AO 56). The Aucilla (named after a river in the Florida panhandle) was a “Fleet Oiler” whose primary mission was to re-supply water and fuel to Navy ships operating in forward battle areas.
After a couple of North Atlantic crossings, the Aucilla was assigned to operate in the Caribbean. It was there, on a quiet evening, the ship was advised of the possibility of German U-Boats operating on the surface nearby. Em was ordered to “strike an arc” on a 36” searchlight (i.e. turn it on) that also could serve as a signal light. That meant that shutters used to send Morse code messages were placed over the lens. These shutters were in the closed position at the time so the searchlight, though turned on, was not visible to any U-Boats that may have been lurking in the darkness. Em was situated directly behind the searchlight awaiting (with trepidation) orders to open the shutters and, in so doing, becoming the primary target of the U-Boats’ deck gunners. Fortunately, the order never came and Em was not required to execute Plan B, which was to immediately jump overboard.
Upon completion of its Caribbean tour, the Aucilla was ordered to the Pacific Theatre. After some stops along the way the Aucilla ended up around the northern Philippine island of Luzon. Along the way some interesting things were happening with the ship’s personnel. Recall that Em joined the ship’s crew as a very junior seaman. As time passed many of the more senior sailors in his unit started leaving for other assignments. At age 19, Em was perhaps too rapidly, becoming a very senior crewman. Though he had been promoted to Second Class, he often was asked to perform the duties expected of Electrician First Class sailors and even of Chief Petty Officers. This could be daunting. On one occasion, the central “repeater” of the gyrocompass (operated by a Sperry Rand Gyroscope), located on the Bridge became inoperable while the ship was underway at night in the middle of a large convoy. Under these conditions, it is critical that all ships remain on their assigned course and speed. The gyroscope and its compass along with the repeaters for each side of the ship are the primary navigation tools to do this. Fortunately, there was a working repeater in the aft that could be switched out with the broken one but, because the ship was underway, Em was required to complete the exchange under full electrical power. This was an extremely technical maneuver requiring each step to be completed precisely and in the correct order. To this day Em does not really know how he accomplished this task, but he did and the ship remained on course.
Another operation that usually calls for the most senior electrician is “degaussing” or demagnetizing a ship’s hull. When a ship finds itself in waters that may contain mines, the magnetized hull (the usual condition) must be degaussed quickly or it could attract mines that are designed to detonate on contact with a magnetized hull. To do this, very precise amounts of current must be applied to three different cables that supply power to the ship. These amounts vary, based on how the ship is operating from time to time, so precise calculations are required. Em recalls being very nervous whenever he had to do this, not only because a Chief usually did it but also because a mistake could result in a very big bang.
Em will tell you that not all wartime danger comes from mines or other forms of enemy activity. In December 1944, the Aucilla was operating about 300 miles East of Luzon as part of Task Force 38. It was an extremely large group (well over 100 ships including 13 aircraft carriers and eight battleships), whose orders were to attack and destroy numerous Japanese airfields operating in and around the Philippines. Many other Fleet Oilers were engaged in refueling operations, primarily of destroyers because of their relatively small fuel tanks. An extremely large and powerful tropical storm (later known as “Halsey’s Typhoon”) was heading their way. As conditions got worse, refueling operations had to be discontinued. Then, on December 17, after being given inaccurate information about the location and direction of the typhoon, Task Force Commander, Admiral Bull Halsey, ordered the Task Force into the heart of it. Em recalls that he and his shipmates had their hands full just trying to keep their ship afloat in very heavy seas with 100 mph winds and torrential rain. Em remembers with sadness the USS Monaghan. The Aucilla was attempting to refuel it but could not complete the task due to the weather conditions. The Monaghan had emptied much of its ballast in anticipation of taking on more fuel. Because it could not the ship was far too light for the angry seas. Also, it had recently been refitted with extra armor that made it too heavy. Extreme listing (close to 70%) caused water to pour down the stacks disabling the engine. Unable to maneuver, it was sunk with the loss of over 250 US Navy men.
The Aucilla survived the storm with relatively little major damage and soon was back at work in other campaigns (including Iwo Jima) until the end of the war in August 1945. It stayed on duty until May 1946 assisting in post war operations. Em recalls that one of these was to refuel to some Japanese destroyers that had been abandoned off the Korean coast. These ships were then sailed back to Japan for eventual destruction.
Soon after, Em received an Honorable Discharge and returned to New York where, using the GI Bill, he enrolled in Alford State College. He received a degree in Electrical Engineering and married Marion in 1949. Em took a job with IBM in New York City. With the advent of the Korean War, he was recalled into the Navy. Em was assigned to duty as an instructor at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and at his former tech school in Newburgh where he remained until he was discharged in 1953. He returned to IBM where he remained until his retirement in 1980 after 40 years with the company. After some traveling, he and Marion settled down in Bradenton, Florida. In 2015, they relocated to Lake Barrington, Illinois to be closer to their son, Russell, his wife, Anne, and their three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Honor Flight Chicago is proud to welcome Emmett Parsons, American hero, on its April 12, 2017 flight. Emmet, we hope that you enjoy your well-deserved day of honor in Washington, D.C.