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When I was growing up, I knew very little about my dad’s time in the Navy. Beyond seeing photos of him dressed in his Navy Blues when he married my mom, his Navy history was only a vague notion to me. I knew only two things, really: 1. that he’d helped pull some men out of the ocean; and B. that he was on a minesweeper. Of course, my adolescent brain conflated those two facts… that while he was on the minesweeper, he helped pull men from shark-infested ocean waters. (I’m pretty sure that the sharks were my idea.)
To be honest, this ignorance of his service lasted well into my thirties. OK… to really be honest, it lasted until after I’d turned 60, when I began investigating the events of 11 May 1944, when the ship he was aboard at the time, the USS Zircon (PY-16), came to the aid of a burning, exploding Navy lighter, the USS YF-415, just outside Boston Harbor. (I write about that here.)
It wasn’t until I began this research that I learned that his role in the rescue of fourteen men from the YF-415 took place when he was aboard a weather-reporting ship, the Zircon, and not a minesweeper. Of the three and a-half years he served in the Navy, his time aboard the minesweeper, the USS YMS-75, accounted for less than five months of his total duty. I find it curious that his most exciting, consequential moments in the Navy came while he was aboard the Zircon, but he chose to tell me that he worked on “a minesweeper.”
As with my research with the Zircon, I hope to find out about the ninety to a hundred men who served on the YMS-75 during its nearly three-and-a-half years as a Navy vessel. I hope to uncover photos, maybe even some of my dad.
First, the bare essentials of the YMS-75‘s history and specifications (via NavSource Online): • Built by: Weaver Brothers Shipyards (Orange, Texas) • Ordered: 1 April 1941 • Laid down 22 July 1941 • Launched 26 May 1942 • Commissioned 22 February 1943 • Decommissioned 18 July 1945 • Transferred to the USSR on 19 July 1945 and reclassified T-590 • Assigned to the Northern Pacific Fleet 30 July 1945 • Participated in the 11 – 25 August 1945 offensive, Yuzhno-Sakhalin, Japan • Placed out of service 1 September 1955 and laid up • Struck from the Soviet Navy list 25 June 1956 • Sunk in the Tartar Strait between 28 – 30 June 1956 (in agreement with the United States) • Struck from the Naval Registry 29 October 1956
The ship’s specifications… Displacement: 270 tons Length: 136 feet (41.4528 meters) Beam: 24.5 feet (7.47 meters) Draft: 8 feet (2.4 meters) Speed: 15 knots Complement: 32 Armament: One 3″/50 dual purpose gun mount, two 20mm mounts, and two depth charge projectors Propulsion: Two 880bhp General Motors 8-268A diesel engines, Snow and Knobstedt single reduction gear, two shafts. Minesweepers with hull numbers YMS-66 through YMS-75 were built at Weaver Brothers Shipyards in Orange, Texas, just across the Sabine River from Louisiana. Likely, the ships were identical or very close to it. Below are the YMS-72, YMS-71, and YMS-74.
As best as I can tell, the YMS-75’s Commanding Officer at the time it was commissioned was Lieutenant Richard Rex Parkin, USNR.
Sometimes, I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for people related to my dad’s ship mates. To what end, I’m not sure. I guess it’s just a fascination with lives lived of those with whom my dad came in contact. It’s the discovery, I guess, of a whole other world that existed without me in it. If that makes sense.
I’m currently on a mission to locate someone related to Owen Lee Stitt, Jr., who served on the YMS-75 from the 4 July 1944 until 23 May 1945, leaving the ship as a Seaman, First Class (S1c). His time aboard the YMS-75 overlapped with my dad’s by about three months, from February to July of 1945. As I’ve noted in a previous post, I’m pretty sure that he is #14 in the group photo, based on a comparison of that photo and his 1941 Freshman portrait from the University of Wyoming.
I guess it’s because I have a picture of him that I want to locate someone who might be interested in the photo as well. He’s more than just a name on my spreadsheet at this point. Also, finding someone related to Stitt has becoming a bit of a mystery-solving adventure, with interesting turns each step of the way, and I’m determined to solve the mystery. (I recently discovered an Owen Stitt in Boise, Idaho who is 16 or so… is he a namesake? A fifth cousin twice removed? Is Owen the go-to name in the World of Stitt?)
Another small reason I’m in such determined pursuit… the grandson of Beryl Frederick Gabbert (#3 in the group photo) told me in an email that Gabbert’s daughter has Lee as her middle name as a tribute to Stitt. So, there seems to have been something about the guy that had an impact on those around him.
I have been able to find a few things about about Stitt. One Proof of Notice Shown article refers to him in a probate decision as having had J. F. (Fleming?) Sturgeon appointed as guardian for him and Ruth Elaine Stitt. Is this guardianship merely a person who represents/protects Owen’s and Ruth’s inheritance?
He would have been all of about eight and a-half years old at the time. Is this the same Owen Lee Stitt, Jr. I’ve been looking for? I’ve tried tracing all of the names in the notice with no luck, except possibly for one of Byron’s granddaughters. I managed to find that Owen’s father had a brother, Donald Gardner Stitt, who had a daughter, Ruth Elaine. Donald was a career military guy, and as best as I could find, his daughter married William Cox in San Antonio, Texas in 1941.
According to his Rawlins High School yearbook of 1940, Roundup, one of Stitt’s activities was as the Editor-In-Chief of the school’s yearbook.
He was also on Student Council, Boys Glee Club and Band… and based on the third image of the series of photos below, his father did some of the photography for the yearbook (“Photo by STITT”). For his two “official” photographs—his portrait in the Seniors section as well as on The Roundup Staff page—his full name is used, whereas in the Activities section of the yearbook, he is identified as Lee Stitt. It makes more sense, then, that Beryl Gabbert chose that name for his daughter’s middle name—he appears to have preferred Lee to Owen. Perhaps this initially was a way to distinguish himself from his father?
I also found a news article from the 16 July 1950 Kingsport (Tennessee) Times News which appears to have been written by Stitt, and for which he provided the photograph which accompanies the article about the opening of a public swimming pool in St. Paul, Virginia.
His connection to St. Paul, Virginia seems somewhat odd to me. The above was the only story he’s written that I have come across, so I’m unclear if he actually worked for the Times News (a Kingsport, Tennessee paper) or if he wrote it on spec or as a stringer or as an intern. 1950 probably would have been five or six years after his graduation from the University of Wyoming, so an internship seems unlikely. I’ve made somewhat of a leap that journalism might have run in the family, as there was a John B. Stitt who was the Editor of the Wayne County Record in Centreville, Illinois, near St. Louis, Missouri. In census records and city directories, Stitt’s father’s occupation was photographer. Another parallel vocation in the Stitt family.
Why was Stitt in Tennessee or Virginia if he didn’t get hired by a newspaper? I found a news clipping from the year before making note of a visit to St. Paul by Stitt and his mother and her second husband, Joseph F. Johnson. Did this visit result in the newspaper job?
A couple of months later, another news clipping makes note that Stitt (“Scoutmaster of Troop 131, Laramie, Wyoming”) would be assisting with swimming classes. I’m pretty sure that Stitt’s father was in Colorado at the time, meaning that this would be Owen, Jr.
Checking available documents, the Stitts lived in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1917. The 1920 U.S. Census places them in Rawlins, Wyoming. Helen’s father lived with them, and they had a housekeeper, Jessie Epperson (“Servant for family”), who had a two-year-old son. While Owen’s occupation is listed as Photographer, it appears that he and Helen might have been running a boarding house as there are six lodgers listed at their residence, which the Stitts owned. According to the 1930 census, Owen, Sr.’s occupation is (Hotel) Keeper. In those ten years in between, they had moved to a new place in Rawlins.
I don’t have documents regarding the Stitts’ divorce, but Helen re-married (the aforementioned Joseph F. Johnson) in 1935. The 1940 census places Owen, Sr. in Denver, Colorado. The same census also indicates that Helen is divorced, so apparently, the second marriage didn’t work out either. (But this runs contrary to the 1949 clipping above in which Owen visited St. Paul, Viriginia, with his mother and Mr. Johnson.) I guess that explains why she and Owen, Jr. share a gravesite.
One of the more confusing aspects of this search is that this branch of the Stitt family tree seems to have been based in El Paso, Illinois, not far from Bloomington. His mother’s grandfather, John Samuel Childs, was born in Michigan, but I’ve not been able to determine where she was born. I
According to the Ancestry profile I found for Helen, she had a half-brother named Owen Stett. What?!? Is that a coincidence or a misspelling or a transcription error from a U.S. Census? Did she marry Owen Stett (Stitt), her half-brother? I’m guessing that someone hasn’t been as thorough as even I’ve been with the research.
According to Wyoming death records, Stitt died in Park County, Wyoming, in the northwest corner of the state, and was buried in his hometown of Rawlins, which is a good four-hour drive. Was he living in Park County at the time? Visiting? I contacted newspapers in Park County and there were no death notices or an obituary for Owen. All I could find was a Wyoming Death Index with his name listed.
It is always a bit sad to come across sailors whose lives were cut short. Two YMS-75 Plank Owners—as best as I can tell—had neither gotten married nor had children.
Howard Allen Jones
Howard Allen Jones served on the YMS-75 from 22 February 1943 to 30 January 1944. He had a rating of Coxswain (Cox) when he was transferred to the William T. Powell (DE-213), where he achieved a rating of Boatswain’s Mate, Second Class (BM2c) before his discharge.
Of course, with a name like Jones (my mother’s maiden name, by the way) it likely will be difficult to locate family. But… Jones’s father’s name was John E. Jones, and I found a grave for someone with that name in Colby, Kansas, where Howard was born. On the FindAGrave memorial page for John is a link to a memorial page for a son, Lloyd E. Jones, whose obituary indicates he had three brothers and a sister that had preceded him in death. While writing this, I found a 1940 census which pretty much confirms that Lloyd, who was born in 1941, was indeed Howard’s brother, as the names on the census page line up with the names in Lloyd’s obituary. So… I might have a lead. I also found a marriage license for a Howard A. Jones and Harriet McClung but nothing else to corroborate that it’s the same Howard Jones.
Thomas Francis Naylor, Jr.
I have found very little information about Thomas Francis Naylor, Jr. other than that he died just a couple months after his father. He was Chief Machinist’s Mate (CMM) for the almost six months he was aboard the YMS-75, from 22 February 1943 to 20 August 1943. According to the description at his FindAGrave memorial page, he had been in the Navy for twenty-two years. Another tidbit that I found was that his brother worked at Pusey & Jones, which built the Nakhoda, which was purchased by the Navy and commissioned as the USS Zircon (PY-16); the Zircon was the other ship my dad served upon.
One interesting aspect regarding Naylor is that it’s noted on the initial Report of Changes for the YMS-75, at the time it was commissioned, that Naylor enlisted in Swatow (Shantou), China on 25 October 1940, which doesn’t jibe with the twenty-two years mentioned above. I would probably have to look further into this to understand what that’s about. It suggests to me that he was already in the Navy and that he re-enlisted on that day since I wouldn’t expect any Navy recruitment offices in China.
Naylor had other brothers and a sister who had children (one sister appears not to have been married), so it is with them that I’ll press on.
After months and months and months of ignoring both of my research projects, I’ve dived back in again. I recently sent postcards out (most for a second time) but continue to hit the brick wall of frustration that people aren’t responding. It’s possible, of course, that I have the wrong addresses for people, but there are some that I know are getting through.
Below is a portion of the spreadsheet I work from. Yellow cells represent the sailors whose families I’ve either spoken to or emailed with. The grey cells are those to whom I’ve sent postcards. Green indicates that there is no surviving family. The white cells are those for whom I haven’t yet found any information, which puts them in sort of a limbo state. (The red text indicates officers.) The “Dad” column indicates which sailors were on board at the time my dad was. I gave those people priority when I started this project.
I am probably on my fourth or fifth time through the spreadsheet. I just sent out postcards to Henry William Becker’s kids and to nephews or cousins of Olander Willis Berry. Berry was on board for two years and three months—the preponderance of the YMS-75’s commission. He was one of possibly only two Black men who served on the ship, the other being James Lee Dotson. I’ve seen his name spelled as Orlander in news clippings, but I’ve assumed that the spelling on his draft registration card (which I also assume he filled out) is correct. I received an e-mail today from Carse Etheridge’s daughter, who said that her father had spoken of “Willis,” describing him “a great guy, a hard worker and a lot of fun.”
It’s been a little over a year since I updated this site, as this past fifteen months has pretty much put a damper on my research. I unsubscribed from Newspapers.com as I have barely worked since the onset of the pandemic. Without much income, it seemed rather wasteful to be spending money on non-essential stuff. But recently, I decided to re-subscribe because I really need to be more productive with my time than I have been. I started going through my spreadsheet again, alphabetically, of course, and after addressing a few postcards to the children of (I hope) of Henry William Becker, I moved on to the next name on the not-contacted list.
That was Edward George Brust, Seaman, First Class (S1c). He was only on board the YMS-75 from 26 February to 10 April 1944. He had been transferred from the YMS-380, another minesweeper, upon which he served for almost two months.
I had actually found a few news clippings with his name last year which reported he’d been killed when he was hit by a train on 8 November 1959. At 34 (he would have turned 35 in less than a month), he was a brakeman for the Long Island Railroad. I thought I’d do another search this evening, as Newspapers.com occasionally adds newspapers to its archives, and I found a clipping with a little more information than what I’d previously found. It indicates his nearest relatives lived in Florida at the time of his death, so it might be worth looking for nephews or nieces. According to Edward’s draft registration card, he was six feet tall, weighed 155 pounds, had a light complexion, brown hair, and green eyes.
When I first attempted to make contact with those whose fathers served with mine on the YMS-75, I made phone calls. It’s a weird thing to be a blend of extrovert and introvert. I generally have no problems talking to strangers, but calling someone from out of the blue and asking about his or her father can be a bit daunting. That’s why I created the postcard, so that I can make contact using something a bit more tangible than my voice over the telephone, or an e-mail. That said, I managed to get over that wee bit of anxiety and made a handful of calls. One of those calls was to Fred Coldwell, whose father, Ferdinand (Fred) Kennedy Coldwell, was one of only three men who were on board the ship from the day it was commissioned on 22 February 1943 until it was handed over to the Soviet Union on 18 July 1945.
We spoke for at least a half-hour, during which Fred, to my surprised delight, told me of his and his brother Bob’s years of research into the YMS-75, AND that he had a photograph of it… AND that he had a group photograph of the crew. I have said elsewhere with regard to finding photos of my father from his time aboard the USS Zircon (PY-16) that I’d never known existed is like finding gold, which is again how I felt when I received the photos via email from Fred’s brother Bob.
While my dad’s face doesn’t appear in the group photo, it was nonetheless great to be able to see faces of twenty-five of the approximately eighty-five to ninety men who served on the ship over the course of its two and a half years as a Navy vessel; men whose names I’ve seen on muster rolls (and my spreadsheet) for the past year or so. I now had one name, Coldwell, matched with one face.
Before I’d received the photo, though, I’d made a call to Joyce Etheridge, daughter of Carse Lester Etheridge, another of the men who served on board for the entire commission of the ship. In our conversation, she revealed that her father’s nickname was “Moon.” She gave her e-mail address to me, and once I received the group photo, I shared it with her and she was able to pick out her father. Two down.
It took me a little more more than a week to receive the postcards from the printer, and I started sending out a handful at a time. After I mailed out my first batch, I was contacted by Harold Legrand Huffstetler’s son, Glenn, who identified his father. He also told me that he had the photo on the postcard, but that it was a mirror image of the card. So, I was feeling pretty giddy already at the prospects of receiving additional phone calls or emails.
Since then, I’ve been able to identify eleven additional faces, two of which are educated guesses: Olander Willis Berry (Ck3c), who served from 1 April 1943 until 2 July 1945, making him one of the longer serving sailors on the ship (Berry is the only Black sailor in the photo); and Owen Lee Stitt, Jr. (S1c), based on his high school senior photo which I’d found via Ancestry.
Because I don’t have deck logs yet, I don’t know when Lt. (j.g.) Arthur James McCourt handed over command of the ship to Lt. (j.g.) Kenneth Donald Dunckel. McCourt is in the photo (#25) and I have a suspicion that Dunckel (Executive Officer under McCourt) is #1, but I’ve not yet heard from Dunckel’s relatives.
According to Muster Rolls/Reports of Changes, it appears that the YMS-75 began making its way to the west coast sometime after 10 March 1945, which is the last date someone (Richard Gerard O’Connor) was transferred off the ship until 28 April 1945, when Cecil Monroe Shutt was transferred, in Seattle.
The quarterly Muster Roll from 31 March 1945, which, of course, was taken between those two dates, and signed by Commanding Officer Dunckel and Executive Officer Lt. (j.g.) Charles Edwin Pittman, Jr. lists the following enlisted men. Those names who have been identified (or surmised) are in bold and have numbers following them which refer to the numbers I’ve overlaid on the photo. Those who are definitely not in the photo have an asterisk in front of their names.
Joseph Assevado, Jr. (#12) Henry William Becker James Edward Beigh (#23) Olander Willis Berry (#5) Charles Joseph Blum Ferdinand (“Fred”) Kennedy Coldwell (#24) *Sterling Douglas Cooke Irwyn John Correll Carse (“Moon”) Laster Etheridge (#9) Beryl (“Pinky”) Frederick Gabbert (#3) Joseph Andrew Garneau Raymond Albert Gaskins Thomas James Gillen Daniel Francis Hines Harold Legrand Huffstetler (#8) *Kenneth Kay King John Kozel (#6) John William Lozier Paul Lee McNinney (#18) Richard Melerine (#19) Stanley Raymond Milavec William Palichak *John Bell Power Eugene Joseph Ratto John (“Jack”) Richard Shea (#4) Cecil Monroe Shutt Joseph Holmes Smyth (#13) Owen Lee Stitt, Jr. *Edward Adolph Trzaskowski Wilfred Andrew Walsh Harold Wheeler Frank John Zanino
Cooke’s son has told me his dad isn’t in the photo, and Joseph Garneau’s daughters have told me that King and their father were best friends, so they’re able to confirm he’s not in the photo. I also spoke with Edward Adolph Trzaskowski’s son who said his dad’s not in the group. And, of course, my dad’s not in the photo. I’m waiting to hear back from Irwyn John Correll’s sister, whose husband I spoke with today. Also today, Joseph Assevado’s son Malcom called me and confirmed that his father is #12.)
I hope to hear from those who have received postcards in the last couple of weeks to get in touch so that I can identify a few more faces. Otherwise, I suppose I’ll have to start making phone calls after all.
Update (26 September 2020): I received an email from the great grandson of Beryl Frederick Gabbert, who identified him as #3 in the photo.
I have been researching the two ships my father served on during World War II for several years now. In that time, I have come across some interesting things regarding the sailors’ lives before or after the war. Most appear to have returned to fairly normal lives after the war, some have gone on to be pretty important people in society, even famous, and I’ve discovered a few tragedies along the way.
Until today, however, I’d not come across any of the sailors on either the Zircon or the YMS-75 that had been killed in action.
James Lee Dotson was a YMS-75 Plank Owner, one of twenty-five enlisted men (and three officers, I believe) who served as the ship’s crew when it was commissioned on 22 February 1943. His rating on the first muster roll was MAtt2c, or Mess Attendant, Second Class. On the day of his transfer on the 1st of April, his rating was StM2c, or Steward’s Mate, Second Class. There was no Report of Change marking the change in rating, so I looked through a website I’ve been using to learn what the various rating abbreviations stand for, but it didn’t list Mess Attendant. A second site I keep handy explained it:
The Messman Branch, responsible for feeding and serving officers, was a racially segregated part of the U.S. Navy. White sailors could not serve in the Messman Branch, which was composed almost exclusively of African-Americans recruited in the U.S. and Filipino, Chinese and other foreign nationals who had been recruited overseas into the U.S. Asiatic Fleet. This attracted criticism from civil rights leaders during the war, and the Roosevelt administration was under some pressure to address this inequality. Some steps were taken throughout the war, but the navy’s leadership proved resistant to major change. In February 1943 the name of the branch was changed to Steward Branch, the word “officer’s” was dropped from rate titles, and “mess attendant” became “steward’s mate.”
Dotson went from the YMS-75 to a series of sub chasers, the SC-1064, the PC-595, and then to the PC-488.
He was received on the PC-488 on 4 December 1943 and he died six days later. He was 17. Perhaps he wasn’t actually killed in action… maybe he had an accident on board. I couldn’t find any reports of his death in newspapers, nor could I find any mention of the ship in newspaper archives. I don’t know if he had any family beyond his parents.
His name, though, is engraved in the East Coast Memorial in Battery Park in Manhattan, New York City.
Recently, I’ve begun sending out postcards to relatives of YMS-75 sailors. I continue to try to locate them and contact them by email if I can, but I’ve had some success with sending postcards to USS Zircon sailors’ relatives, so perhaps it will work with YMS people as well. It helps that I now have photographs that I can use to make a more compelling (I hope) postcard. Unlike the Zircon cards, I’ve included a printed message on the card that is general in nature, versus hand-writing notes specific to Zircon sailors. It’s primarily a time-saving device, but also, I can fit more words on the card in printed form. I’ve left spaces for writing in the sailors’ names as well as for my signature. I’ll be sending out my first batch this week, starting with the sailors who were aboard the ship at the same time as my dad.
So, if you’ve come here because you received the below postcard, welcome! Please get in touch. If you happen to have photographs or anything related to the YMS-75, I’d love to see it.
I haven’t spent nearly as much time tracking down the families of YMS-75 sailors as I have trying to locate USS Zircon (PY-16) families. My dad was only on the YMS-75 for about five months, and his time aboard the Zircon had been more consequential as best as I know, so I’ve spent more time looking into that ship’s history. Also, over four hundred men came and went during the Zircon’s five-year commission—about two hundred and fifty while my dad was aboard—versus only about eighty during the YMS-75’s three-year commission. About half of them were on board with my dad at any given time.
But occasionally, I take a break from the Zircon searches to look up YMS-75 sailors, and a couple of days ago, I spoke with the son of one of the ship’s Plank Owners who served for the ship’s entire commission. As it happens, he and his brother have been looking into the YMS-75 for years. And yesterday, I received a photo of the ship at dock, location and date unknown.
It was like finding gold.
So, it appears that I’ll have to re-double my efforts to contact families of YMS-75 sailors, particularly those few who were aboard during its entire time as a United States Navy vessel, but also the families of officers, who were most likely to have had photographs taken of them and/or their charge.
The YMS-75 was decommissioned on 18 July 1945 in Bremerton, Washington, with an enlisted crew of thirty-one men.
The sailors who were aboard the ship that day… those is bold served during the ship’s entire commission as a Navy vessel.
Joseph Assevado, Jr., BM1c (T) Henry William Becker, RM2c (T) James Edward Beigh, MoMM2c (T) Orlander Willis Berry, Ck3c Charles Joseph Blum, S1c Ferdinand Kennedy Coldwell, EM1c Sterling Douglas Cooke, PhM2c Irwyn John Correll, MoMM2c (T) Carse Laster Etheridge, CMoMM (T) Beryl Frederick Gabbert, SM2c (T) Joseph Andrew Garneau, MoMM3c (T) Raymond Albert Gaskins, QM2c (T) Thomas James Gillen, S1c (T) Daniel Francis Hines, GM3c Harold Legrand Huffstetler, SC2c (T) Kenneth Kay King, Cox John Kozel, RM3c (T) John William Lozier, QM3c (T) Paul Lee McNinney, EM3c Richard Melerine, Cox (T) Stanley Raymond Milavec, MoMM1c (T) William Palichak, RdM3c, (T) John Bell Power, SoM2c (T) Eugene Joseph Ratto, RdM3c (T) John Richard Shea, S1c (T) Cecil Monroe Shutt, F1c Joseph Holmes Smyth, Cox (T) Edward Adolph Trzaskowski, GM1c (T) Wilfred Andrew Walsh, MoMM2c (T) Harold Wheeler, Y1c Frank John Zanino, SoM2c
As if I don’t have enough to do with my other site and with my photography, I decided to do a search for news clippings about Weaver Shipyards, which built the YMS-75, and then thought I’d check to see if I could find any that specifically mentioned the ship. I found these three in Texas newspapers…
I was hoping to find something related to the ship being turned over to Russia, perhaps in a Seattle or Alaskan newspaper, but no such luck.