USS Estes (AGC_12)
A Brief History
by Lawrence W. Pettett

Estes 1958
USS Estes 1958


The sanguinary battle for Guadalcanal forcefully evidenced to the Allies the dire need for increased building and rapid, advanced training of an efficient amphibious war machine. Through the bitter college of experience in the island_dotted Pacific, an overall amphibious technique was developed and soon grew in stature and success. A flagship, specifically designed to function as the floating command center, exercising operational as well as administrative control over the combined land, sea, and air components in an amphibious assault was a natural development of our island_hopping Pacific campaign.

                USS Estes (AGC_12) was the twelfth in the rapidly growing series of these new Amphibious Force Flagships and the sixth of the improved USS Mount McKinley (AGC_7) class.  The story of Amphibious Force Flagship Estes began in the early part of 1943 at the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, Wilmington, North Carolina.  Here on 25 August 1943 the keel of the Maritime Commission C_2 hull, intended as the merchant vessel SS Morning Star, was laid, and on 1 November 1943 she was launched with Mrs. R.A. Carter of Newport News, Virginia, as sponsor.  The U.S. Navy acquired the partially completed hull on 22 February 1944 and three days later she was towed to the Todd Shipyard, Erie Basin, Brooklyn, New York, to be converted to AGC_12.

                As Amphibious Force Flagships were named after mountains, the Navy's newest was named for the mountain range in Colorado near Estes Park, and is the first such U.S. Navy vessel so called.

                During the mid_war months of May through October 1944, the vital and hastened conversion of Estes by the Navy continued under the supervision of the prospective Commanding Officer, CDR Bob O. Mathews, USN, who had spent most of his boyhood and early schooling in the region of Colorado within the shadow of the lofty Estes Range.   Meanwhile, a green nucleus crew was undergoing intensive training at the U.S. Naval Training Center at Newport, Rhode Island.  By early October, these none_too_briny neophytes entrained for Brooklyn for the first view of their ship.  With mixed or proud excitement and awesome expectancy, the crew and their families witnessed the commissioning ceremony on 9 October 1944, with CAPT H.V. McKittrick, USN, delivering the ship to CDR Mathews.  By 1700 the same day, the ship was underway.

                Estes saw her last of the Manhattan area in the following two weeks, spent loading ammunition and supplies into the new ship, providing meaning to the term, "all_hands working party." The last of October was devoted to trials, drills, a shakedown cruise, and other routine preparations.  On the 29th, Estes reported "ready for duty and onward routing."  Scuttlebutt was rampant as to where she was going.   Even clairvoyants could not have then imagined that this new ship was to play a major part in two of the longest amphibious assaults in the history of the world – or that she would be quietly resting in a peaceful port before a year had elapsed.

                The following day Estes, escorted by USS Goss (DE_444), steamed through the submarine_infested waters off the East Coast, headed for the Canal Zone and the Pacific beyond.  Enroute, daily exercises at general drills were highlighted by frequent gunnery shoots.  On arrival at Panama 5 November, Goss was detached and, two days later, Estes set course for Hawaii independently.  On 20 November she arrived at Pearl Harbor, which still evidenced the effects of the Japanese sneak attack three years before.  The next day RADM W.H.P. "Spike" Blandy, USN, Commander Amphibious Group ONE, came aboard to make an informal inspection of his flagship.

                During December at Pearl Harbor, Estes underwent further overhaul and had additional equipment installed, particularly radio, radar, and countermeasures gear.  She also engaged in final training exercises with USS Eldorado (AGC_11) and several destroyers.  This unit formed at sea off Oahu to rehearse a complete battle problem.  Communications were tested, fog (oil smoke) was generated, and paravanes streamed.  Returning from this experience, the ship moored again in Pearl Harbor over the Christmas holidays.

                RADM Blandy broke his flag in Estes 3 January 1945.  One week later the ship sortied from the harbor and formed up with USS Texas (BB_35), USS Nevada(BB_36), USS Admiral R.E. Coontz (AP_122), and five screening destroyers, heading west for Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Islands, thence to Saipan in the Marianas, preparing for her first real wartime operation.

                Early on the morning of 14 February 1945, Estes cleared the protective nets of Saipan Harbor and assumed guide of a large cruising disposition and set course for Iwo Jima, a small but heavily fortified island in the Japanese_held Volcano Island group.  At 0700 two days later, the first sight of Iwo Jima, surrounded by a vast armada stretching away in columns to the horizon, led to the release of the screening ships to other assignments while Estes and the larger ships closed the island.  The little_known merchant ship of a year ago then became flagship and command headquarters for Commander Task Force 52, the Amphibious Support Task Force.

                Soon afterward the bombardment of the island began and Estes stood in close to observe and direct firing. That night the flagship, screened by five minesweepers, circled the island about five miles off shore to observe night illumination and continued bombardment. The second day, while continuing with fire support units, she was hit by fragments of a small calibre shell which burst near the forward kingposts. Two enlisted men on the open forward deck received minor shrapnel wounds. Henceforth, the warning for "all hands not at battle stations, stay below decks" took on added meaning. That night brought the first of the enemy air raids. A minesweeper received a bomb hit close to her main stack, and her casualties were brought aboard for treatment.

                Just before dawn on 19 February, Estes was approaching Iwo Jima, as usual following night retirement. Those asleep remember the sudden crash that jarred them from their bunks. Cruiser USS Chester (CA_27), in the black of night had collided with the flagship. Fortunately, the two vessels had swerved in time to avert a major disaster. The cruiser only inflicted minor damage to Estes' port bow while she sustained more serious damage to one of her screws and after plating. Also fortunately, no serious injury to personnel was reported from either ship.

                Until 24 February, Estes daily took a position close inshore for observation, retiring at night with screening vessels. Night air attacks called all ships to general quarters regularly, especially those which stayed to carry out night harassment. When enemy planes approached the retirement area, brilliant curtains of anti_aircraft fire went up from the screening destroyers and other vessels protecting the flagship and transports in the center of the formation. There were many anxious moments as the motors of enemy planes could be heard directly overhead, and often Estes was on the verge of disclosing her position by opening fire.

                Estes was about 5,000 yards directly off the landing beaches the morning the Marines stormed ashore. Soon Mount Surabachi blazed with hidden guns intent on repulsing this great amphibious assault. But the little brown dots that were men and vehicles inched forward through the volcanic dust to secure the foothold that was never to be relinquished. When the Stars and Stripes were flying in the powder_filled breeze over Mount Surabachi, the men of the Estes also felt proud of the part they had played in this victory.

                Before leaving for Leyte, screened by the fast transport USS Gilmer (APD_11), Estes transferred to other ships a number of patients, several war correspondents, and the Army, Marine, and British observers who had been quartered aboard. The four day trip to the Philippines was without incident, although the patched_up hole in the port bow caused some consternation.

                On 28 February, Estes anchored in San Pedro Bay off Dulag. A few days later, she went alongside USS Dixie (AD_14) for underwater repairs. A large plate was patched over the gash in the forward peak tank by divers, who worked nights with the aid of submerged floodlights. A whole forward section was filled with rock and cement after the patch had been riveted in place, and the damaged bow received no further attention until Estes put into a West Coast shipyard following three more months of operations.

                Estes left the Philippines on 8 March enroute to Ulithi in company with USS Monadnock (CM_9), USS Richard W. Suesens (DE_342), and USS PC1260. This formation arrived at Ulithi three days later and anchored in the seemingly peaceful lagoon. That evening, while the crew were enjoying a movie, two large planes were seen flying very low overhead without the red and green running lights customary to friendly planes in the area. A minute later, a Flash Red alarm sent all ships in the lagoon to general quarters. Before the flagship's crew had cleared for action, a huge geyser of fire, accompanied by a terrific explosion, riveted all eyes on a large carrier 4,000 yards astern of Estes. One bomber had crashed onto the deck of USS Randolph (CV_15). In another second, a burst of flame from Sorlen Island abeam to port of the flagship, showed where the second Japanese bomber had ended. The planes had evidently taken off on their one_way trip from enemy_held islands to the west.

                Estes remained in Ulithi for another week of logistics, upkeep, and continued training. On 21 March Estes sortied as guide of Task Force 52, formed with USS Tennessee (BB_43) in tactical command, and a large number of warships to engage in her second major operation, the battle for Okinawa. For four days the force steamed toward their objective, passing the long hours with drills and gunnery practice.

                As she approached the objective area, Estes was detached by CTF 52 to form an approach disposition with the Underwater Demolition Group. That night the first enemy aircraft encountered on the operation brought the ship to general quarters and screening vessels opened fire on a Betty, which was sighted crossing Estes' stern. A bomb splashed less than 100 yards away but did not explode.

                Returning to the immediate area off the western beaches of Okinawa, Estes rejoined TF 52 and observed the intense, relentless shore bombardment by scores of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and other fire support ships. Following night retirement for the next three weeks, Estes returned each morning to Nakagusuku Wan, now called Buckner Bay, or to the eastern islands nearby to observe further diversionary feints and shore bombardments. Enemy air attacks, especially at night on all shipping, east and west, increased in intensity. On 5 April, warning of the first large scale air raid was received. Instead of a few or a few dozen planes, the Japanese were to send several hundred. The Estes took station off the eastern bay in an AA formation of battleships, cruisers and destroyers. Unfavorable flying weather delayed the first attack one day. When the assault did come, combat air patrols (CAP) from the carriers met the attackers. The combined toll of enemy raiders taken by our fighter pilots and the ships' anti_aircraft guns taught the Japanese that they could not maintain large_scale daylight raids. Although the Japanese pilots had sunk some of our smaller ships and had damaged many large ones, some two_thirds of the attacking planes did not return to base; more importantly, they had lost many top pilots. About all that remained of the once powerful Japanese air arm was the Kamikaze Corps of one_way attacks. After a few more costly daylight attempts, the Japanese switched strictly to dawn, dusk, and night raids.

                Guarding the entrance to Nakagusuku Wan was a small, picturesque island named Tsuken Shima. Though it had not challenged the early landings in the bay area, it was known to shelter some guns and defenders. One morning Estes closed on Tsuken with landing ships and fire support units to take the island. After intense bombardment by destroyers, the familiar formation of landing craft went speeding onto the beach. Several defending guns were still firing and the remaining concrete base of a lighthouse on a small point was the stronghold for enemy machine gunners. A large caliber fixed gun was firing steadily at the destroyers, LSTs and the flagship. One LST was hit broadside and Estes was narrowly missed at a range of about 3,000 yards. Within an hour the assaulting forces, which had been expeditiously and successfully landed, established their beachhead. As usual, the Japanese were well dug in and equipped, and it took until the next afternoon to completely subdue the island.

                Estes' closest call occurred one evening just before sunset. A sudden warning from CIC (Combat Information Center) alerted all guns to a single plane approaching aft. When first sighted, the plane was diving out of a cloud bank just above USS Wichita (CA_45) and was heading directly for Estes. Soon, Estes' 40mm and 5_inch guns and those of Wichita commenced firing. The red circle insignia on the plane's wings flashed for an instant, just as it was shattered by a direct hit from mount 52, the after 5_inch. The burst had blown off the starboard wing and part of plane's fuselage and tail while it was diving from an elevation of less than 1,000 yards. The remnants of the plane crashed into the water 200 yards off Estes' starboard quarter. The tension in all hands topside gave way in a triumphant shout. A small bomb, apparently released from the plane, exploded astern of the wreckage, but the downed aircraft did not explode nor burn. A parachute was observed to open when the plane was about 150 feet above the water, but the pilot apparently could not get out, as the 'chute remained attached to the sinking plane. No damage to the ship nor to personnel resulted from this near disaster.

                Estes then proceeded to the western beaches off Okinawa and anchored in Hagushi Harbor. With Eldorado and USS Auburn (AGC_10), Estes shared responsibility for defense against continuous enemy air attacks. Two captured airfields, Kadena and Yontan, sent up Marine night fighters which the AGCs controlled in addition to the Navy CAP from the carriers. These were the days and nights of the heroic fights of the radar picket destroyers. When the enemy raiders broke through these stalwart picket defenses, it was time for the AGCs to vector the CAP to intercept enemy bombers and suicide planes. The flagship's Combat Information Center, with its overall control of the air picture, proved to be a key defensive and offensive weapon.

                The bugler's call to the movies each evening at 1930 seemed to be an invitation for Japanese raiders to start their night attacks. Frequently, the sound of the bugle had scarcely died down when the general alarm gongs and the Boatswain piping, ...all hands, man your battle stations, preempted the evening's entertainment. It came to be an expected event. Estes witnessed almost continuous anti_aircraft fire after sunset during her last week off Okinawa. She saw untold numbers of Japanese planes shot down, winced as her sister ships – including USS Samaritan (AH_10) – were hit, and respectfully watched the battered picket destroyers enter the harbor to be patched up and rushed back into action.

                In the evening of 14 April 1945 that word came to the fleet at Okinawa of the death of their Commander_in_Chief. Colors were lowered to half_staff in honor of President Roosevelt.

                When Estes received orders to depart for rear areas on 20 April, she had completed a full month of operations as a unit of The Fleet Which Came To Stay, within 300 miles of the Japanese homeland.

                Estes proceeded to Saipan and enjoyed a short period of R&R (replenishment and recreation). Her first combat tour concluded, Estes then, amid shouts of joy, departed for the United States via Hawaii, arriving not at the Golden Gate in '48, but back alive in '45. Sighting Farallon Island on 27 May, Estes passed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and steamed into San Francisco Bay. By noon all passengers had disembarked at the docks, and the ship headed up the bay to unload ammunition and fuel. While the officers and men were rewarded with leave, Estes was tied up at Moore's Drydock in Oakland for a sixty_day availability. Following a complete overhaul and modernization, RADM R.O. Davis, USN, Commander Amphibious Group THIRTEEN, came aboard with Staff. Finally, on 8 August, the day after the epic disclosure of the atomic destruction of Hiroshima, Estes steamed out of San Francisco, headed once again for the far reaches of the Pacific.

                On arrival at Pearl Harbor 14 August, word of the Japanese surrender was received. However, these tidings did not delay AGC_12, and Estes weighed anchor the following day and continued westward to the Philippines, arriving Leyte Gulf on 28 August, where the first of the ship's crew to be discharged were returned to the United States. Throughout the month of September, Estes operated in the Philippines, visiting numerous ports in preparation for occupation duty.

                On 2 November Estes took leave of Manila and set course for Shanghai to become the flagship of ADM Thomas C. Kincaid, USN, Commander Seventh Fleet, breaking his flag 7 November. At the same time, RADM Davis transferred his staff to USS Rocky Mount (AGC_3). On 19 November ADM Kincaid left the ship and VADM D.E. Barbey, USN, shifted his flag to Estes.

                During the next ten weeks Estes cruised much ocean and visited many ports, stopping at Tsingtao, Chinwangto, and Hultao, China. The Christmas and New Year holidays were spent swinging at anchor in Shanghai Harbor. Early in January of 1946, ADM Barbey was relieved by ADM Charles M. Cooke, USN, the new Commander Seventh Fleet. The long period until 18 March 1947 was spent in various ports of China, Japan, and Korea. On this date in Shanghai, CAPT W.H. Brereton, USN, relieved CAPT Mathews as Commanding Officer. As CAPT Mathews had served aboard since commissioning, this was a sad day indeed for the crew he led so courageously and capably.

                On 4 April 1947 Eldorado arrived as relief flagship for ADM Cooke. The Admiral shifted immediately and Estes set course for San Francisco the same day.

                On Monday, 21 April, the by now partially Asiatic crew saw the United States for the first time in two years. After a week in San Francisco Estes took departure for Bremerton, Washington, where she remained in overhaul status until July. While in the yard, CAPT J.B. Hogle, USN, relieved CAPT Brereton as Commanding Officer. Estes then sailed for WESTPAC, arriving 21 August to repay Eldorado's favor of four months before, and ADM Cooke and Staff reembarked. During November and December of 1947, Estes continued her visits around the Orient, her itinerary including Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei Bay, Manila, Keelung, Subic Bay, and Tsingtao. Here was ushered in the New Year. On 24 February 1948, ADM Cooke was relieved by ADM O.C. Badger, USN, as Estes continued in the service of another in a long line of distinguished Flag Officers. The first of March found the flagship at Pier One, Tsingtao, as Headquarters for Commander Naval Forces, Western Pacific. Upon completion of this tour of duty, Estes returned to the U.S. where her career was briefly interrupted through decommissioning on 30 June 1949. A brief stay in residence at the Pacific Reserve Fleet at Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard ensued.

                >On 26 December 1950, exactly six months after North Korean troops had launched a full_scale offensive against the Republic of South Korea, the second chapter of Estes' episodes began. A reactivation detail hurriedly undertook the difficult task of restoring the World War II veteran to a combat_ready condition. With most of the mothballs cleared away, Estes was recommissioned 31 January 1951 at Hunter's Point. RADM Ross Cooley, USN, Deputy Commander, Pacific Reserve Fleet, relinquished command to CAPT R.W. Wood, USN, and orders soon followed to train diligently in preparation for action in the troubled Far East.

                Estes arrived Yokosuka 15 July 1951. In ten days she was in the combat zone near Inchon, Korea, having steamed around Kyushu. Mount McKinley had already returned to the U.S., leaving ELDORADO as the only Amphibious Force Flagship in the Far East. VADM I.N. Kiland, USN, Commander Amphibious Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Staff transferred immediately when Estes came alongside Eldorado in island_sprinkled Inchon Harbor.

                Inchon was oppressively hot, and those who ventured ashore found the community noticeably lacking in the amenities they had grown accustomed to expect. It became forcefully evident that this was a war zone. With little to do but wander along dusty streets and look in empty shops, the Ship's Company either remained on board or drank rationed beer while watching Estes' softball team engage that of USS Epping Forest (LSD_4).

                On 6 August Estes arrived once more at Yokosuka. In another change, unofficially designated Operation Back and Forth, ComPhibPac returned to the San Diego_bound Eldorado. Shortly thereafter, RADM T.B. Hill, USN, Commander Amphibious Group ONE, broke his flag in Estes. The flagship steamed to Pusan on 6 September by way of the Shimonoseki Straits Estes the narrow channel between Honshu and Kyushu Estes then to Inchon, which was nearly as stifling and just as pungent as in July. Korea was a good place to leave, and after five days at anchor, Estes moved to Moji on 19 September. The following day all hands observed a somber ceremony honoring the heroes of the Korean War whose lifeless bodies were loaded aboard SS Exemouth for transport to the U.S.

                In Yokosuka on 8 October, RADM C.F. Espe, USN, relieved RADM Hill as ComPhibGruONE and Commander Task Force 90 in ceremonies on the Forward Boat Deck.Four days later, with BrigGEN Dulaney, Assistant Commander of the 45th Infantry Division aboard, Estes sailed for Mukawa, Hokkaido, to observe landing exercises. The rough seas caused by Typhoon Ruth interfered but did not prevent the successful amphibious training assault. The flagship then proceeded to Sasebo for her annual Operational Readiness Inspection. On completion of this profitable but strenuous ordeal, Estes cleared the submarine nets guarding Sasebo's harbor and retraced her Inchon to Pusan to Yokosuka route. On 13 November, Estes steamed to Mukawa for another landing exercise, this time involving a Regimental Combat Team of the 45th Infantry Division.

                After another short stay in Yokosuka, Estes took departure for Kure, the headquarters for British naval units operating in Japanese and Korean waters. It was amusing indeed to hear the Japanese speak English with a British accent and in the British idiom. While in Kure, aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney tied up across the pier. Estes and Flag personnel found the Australian custom of having spirits aboard most convenient and hospitable.

                The flagship again sailed for Inchon on 27 November. At Inchon, all hands contributed to and many attended a highly successful party for Korean War orphans.

                Before first light of a morning in early December, Estes, in company with transports and screening units of TF 90, steamed from the harbor with several thousand men of the First Cavalry Division who were being rotated to a rear area. Leaving the battle_weary soldiers near relatively peaceful Pusan, Estes returned to what was by now her unofficial home port – Yokosuka – for the Holiday Season. At night the flagship and USS Rochester (CA_124), tied up alongside the same pier, made bright, decorative displays with their colored lights and Christmas trees. Christmas afternoon a group of Japanese orphans came aboard for a lively party in the Crew's Mess. The guests were given presents, shown movies, and offered a good deal more from the festive board than they could eat.

                Estes' yuletide holidays came to a close 7 January, and the ship sailed to Inchon, then to the pretty harbor at Koje_do, an island near Pusan where more than 150,000 North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war were held. The following day the flagship got underway for Nagasaki, Kyushu. No one noticed any resentment toward American servicemen. To those aboard, it was surprising that in this city – where six and a half years before, 75,000 had been killed in the holocaust of the second atomic bomb – the people should be so friendly. Two days of tours and parties and Estes departed for Sasebo. Enroute, she passed in full view of the house of the legendary Madame Butterfly, who Puccini portrayed as killing herself with her father's sword when LT Pinkerton, USN, returned to duty in Sasebo with his American wife.

                Hoisting anchor 23 January, Estes departed for Korea. Ending her first year of reactivation along the eastern coast of the war_ravaged country, Condition One and Warning Red were the usual for the darkened_ship nights in Inchon Harbor. Fortunately, the MIGs never made their bombing runs specifically on Estes. She ventured north on its anniversary day to Sokcho_ri, a village on the eastern shore of Korea and on the Communist side of the 38th parallel, in order for RADM Espe to participate in a key conference held on this enemy_surrounded beachhead. The following day, Estes quickly got underway for a return jaunt to Kobe, with stops enroute at Pohang Dung and Pusan. Estes then steamed back to her Yokosuka lair on 10 February for a yard availability period.

                After one more trip to battle_scarred Inchon and back, Commander Amphibious Group THREE embarked, relieving ComPhibGruONE. Estes then weighed anchor and set course for home via Pearl Harbor, arriving in San Diego 19 April 1952. Eleven days later, CAPT Jack S. Holtwick, Jr., USN (Note 1), relieved CAPT Wood as Commanding Officer. Off Aliso Canyon, training exercise AMLEX I interrupted a quiet spring before Estes set course for Mare Island Naval Shipyard for the summer.

                Electronics were upgraded and highly specialized communications equipment were installed during this unusual yard period in addition to the usual upkeep. It was during this time that the mysterious elephant_ears were installed on the forward starboard kingpost. The elephant_ears were to be Estes' unique distinction for the next two years. Other departures from the past included the installation of Estes' first flight deck aft atop the potato locker, replacing Mount 52, and the rigging of what appeared to be a stem_to_stern sprinkler system topsides. Estes certainly had taken on a new character!

                With the memories of Korea still fresh, a modernized Estes took her departure 2 September and sailed into the future for a new type of operation scheduled to take place at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific. Embarked were RADM C.W. Wilkins, USN, Commander Task Group 132.3, the Navy Task Group attached to Joint Task Force 132, and many scientists to conduct vital experiments to be known as Operation IVY. IVY added a new word to the vocabulary: thermonuclear. Also aboard were a number of newsmen and one actor: Reed Hadley (of TV's smash hit, Racket Squad), who would narrate a documentary film to be produced by the U.S. Air Force. The film, titled Operation IVY, would chronicle the events leading up to and including the entry of the United States into the thermonuclear age on 2 November 1952, with the detonation of Mike, an experimental thermonuclear (hydrogen) device that vaporized Elugelab Island at Eniwetok Atoll.

                A little more than three months later, Estes passed Old Point Loma lighthouse abeam to port, in time for the Christmas holidays. Just into the new year of 1953, Estes proceeded to Mare Island once more for a short yard period, receiving a sparkling new paint job.

                Returning to San Diego, Estes hosted VADM Martin, USN, Commander First Fleet, and LtGEN Hart, USMC, Commander Fleet Marine Forces Pacific, in connection with PACPHIBEX II, an amphibious training exercise that continued into May.

                With RADM F.S. Withington, USN, Commander Amphibious Group THREE and Commander Task Force 9, embarked, Estes bade farewell to San Diego 6 July 1953, setting course for Kodiak, Alaska, and another of the unusual operations for the ship __ unusual operations that were to become the norm. This time, the purpose of Operation Blue Nose, as it was called, was to resupply government installations – the DEW Line – in the far north. Estes arrived Kodiak one week out of San Diego. Proceeding north, the personnel of TF 9 were officially inducted into the Honorary Order of the Arctic as Blue Noses when the force crossed the Arctic Circle 19 July. While at anchor at Icy Cape, Estes received the news that a truce had been signed in Korea. Continuing north to Wainwright on 31 July, Estes pressed on to Point Barrow the following day. At anchor off Point Barrow, Estes fell temporary victim to a shift in the wind which allowed pack ice to move inshore, immobilizing the ship for the better part of a week. USCGC Northwind (W_282) proved her mettle and freed Estes, plus USS Electra (AKA_4) and USS Skagit (AKA_105), from the icy confines of the anchorage. The resupply mission complete, Estes eagerly but cautiously set course for home port San Diego 9 August.

                The following four months found Estes operating out of San Diego. On 8 September 1953, CAPT Jacob W. Waterhouse, USN (Note 2), relieved CAPT Holtwick as Commanding Officer.

                As 1954 began, Estes, now with her elephant_ears removed, took her departure for the Marshall Islands for her second thermonuclear test series: Operation CASTLE, serving as flagship for Joint Task Force 7. This protracted series of tests lasted until 16 May, after which Estes escorted USS Curtiss (AV_4) back to San Diego, nonstop.

                Within six short weeks, Estes, with RADM Lorenzo S. Sabin, Jr., USN, ComPhibGruONE, embarked, was underway 6 July for a six_month tour of duty in the Far East. By 26 July, a happy Mount McKinley greeted her relief at Yokosuka. On arrival, RADM Sabin relieved ComPhibGruTHREE as Commander Task Force 90 and ComPhibGruWESTPAC.

                Scarcely had the crew grown accustomed to the aromas of Yokosuka when secret orders sent Estes south on 14 August. Rumors and tension mounted until RADM Sabin announced that Estes was headed first to Okinawa, then to Subic Bay, and to Henrietta Pass, at the outlet of the port of Haiphong, French Indo_China (now Vietnam), into the South China Sea, arriving 18 August. Estes would play a major part in Operation Passage to Freedom, history's greatest civilian evacuation by sea; hundreds of thousands of freedom_loving Vietnamese would forsake their homes in the north to flee from the impending tyranny of Communism to then_still_free southern Vietnam. From mid_August until the end of October, the ships shuttled between Haiphong, Tourane, and Saigon. Estes had the distinction of transporting the 100,000th refugee, Phan Hung Son, and his family, from Haiphong to Saigon.

                The reward for a job well done was a short visit to Singapore, and on 2 November 1954 Estes neared the Equator. Crossing the line the next day, all lowly pollywogs were duly initiated and welcomed into the Ancient Order of the Deep __ the realm of Neptunus Rex.

                Following the Singapore visit, Estes proceeded to Hong Kong, stopping briefly at Saigon enroute. On 18 November 1954 in Hong Kong, CAPT Mell A. Peterson, USN (Note 3), relieved CAPT Waterhouse as Commanding Officer.

                Before returning to Yokosuka for the Yuletide, Estes again sailed to war_torn Korea. On 22 January 1955, she traced her previous track to Vietnam, but eight days later another set of secret orders ordered her to depart. When underway, the crew were informed they were to take part in the internationally important evacuation of the Nationalist Chinese forces from the Tachen Islands, only a few miles from the coast of Communist China. RADM Sabin was to command the amphibious phase of the evacuation under the aegis of American Naval Forces commanded by VADM Alfred M. Pride, USN, Commander Seventh Fleet. After three days of preparation in Keelung, the port at the northern tip of Formosa (where it rains 246 days per year, on the average), Estes departed for the Tachens, rendezvousing with the beach units on the morning of 7 February. For five super_tense days the evacuation proceeded on a 24_hour basis, with the flagship anchored close to the islands in company with USS Saint Paul (CA_73) and a division of destroyers, while CAP from Task Force 77 provided air cover. A greatly relieved crew set course for Yokosuka 12 February after the Tachens were successfully cleared with minimal opposition from the Reds. One aircraft was downed by small_arms fire; the pilot was rescued by a unit of the Nationalist Chinese Navy.

                During the following two months, Estes made an extended good_will cruise, calling at Hong Kong once more and at Kure and Beppu on Japan's Inland Sea. On 12 April, after ComPhibGruONE and Staff had moved ashore, Estes took departure of Yokosuka for Keelung, reporting to Commander Seventh Fleet on arrival. Off Taiwan (Formosa), Estes exercised daily with ships and aircraft of the Nationalist Chinese in preparation for the possibility of action in the tense international hot spot of Amoy, the tiny Nationalist_held island outpost within artillery range of the Chinese mainland.

                In a welcome break in this tense period, the officers of the flagship had the honor of attending a reception hosted by the Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai_Shek at the Government House in Taipei. The occasion was to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the Military Advisory Group, Formosa.

                At 0930, 5 May 1955, the long_awaited Eldorado arrived in Keelung to relieve Estes. Less than six hours later, Estes was underway for a short stop at Yokosuka to reembark ComPHibGruONE and Staff, then for San Diego. After a 13_day, non_stop race (at 15 knots!) across the Pacific, the mile_weary ship arrived in San Diego, receiving a hearty welcome from families, friends and brothers_in_arms. Thus ended the eleven_month_long "six_month tour" which began in July of the previous year.

                Soon, Estes was back in Mare Island Naval Shipyard for a major overhaul, but she returned to San Diego in time to serve as flagship for RADM I.T. Duke, USN, and his massive amphibious exercise PACTRAEX 56_L, conducted off the shores of Southern California between 7 and 18 November. Also embarked for the operation were MajGEN Twining, BrigGEN O'Neil, and BrigGEN Dawson, all USMC.

                On 21 December 1955, just five days short of the fifth anniversary of Estes' recommissioning, CAPT Maxim W. Firth, USN, relieved CAPT Peterson.

                In the five years since recommissioning, Estes had added yeoman service in the troubled areas of Korea, Vietnam, and the Tachen Islands to her impressive WW II record. The peaceful Christmas of 1955 was only the third active duty Yuletide season Estes had spent in the U.S. Even then, feverish preparations were in progress for Operation REDWING, Estes' third tour to participate in nuclear weapons testing at the Marshall Islands Proving Ground. Between March and July 1956, she was again in the Marshalls.

                Estes departed for Yokosuka 31 January 1957 with CAPT James B. Burrow, USN, in command. Estes provided quarters and communications facilities until April, sailing then to visit Hong Kong. She returned to stateside duty 15 May, voyaging to Pearl Harbor in July and August.

                In April 1958, CAPT Rollin E. Westholm, USN (Note 4), relieved CAPT Burrow. The year found Estes sailing north in July to ports in British Columbia, and again in August to call at Seattle.

                By the year 1959, Estes had taken on a new look; where the elephant_ears had once been located, the air search radar antenna appeared; the air search antenna's former location atop the tower was taken by a new height_finding radar; and the last electronic relic of WW II, the SP radar antenna, was gone from the after kingposts.It was this new look Estes that began her 1959 tour of duty in the Far East, directing important amphibious operations off Japan, Okinawa, and Korea, and exercises off Borneo with ships of the Royal Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy. During the tour, she visited Inchon, Chinhae, Pohang, Sasebo, Nagasaki, Kobe, Keelung, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

                On 1 May 1959, CAPT Jesse B. Gay, Jr., USN, relieved CAPT Westholm in Pohang, Korea.

                Estes returned to Long Beach in August. In the Fall of that year occurred Estes' premier non_combat accomplishment: The Estes Flag Football Team won the West Coast championship, defeating the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in the finals at San Diego.

                On 20 February 1960 CAPT R.H. Woodfin, USN, relieved CAPT Gay as Commanding Officer. CAPT Paul C. Stimson, USN, relieved CAPT Woodfin as Commanding Officer on 20 May 1961, and through 1962 Estes operated along the West Coast, serving as flagship of Amphibious Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Estes twice visited the Pacific Northwest during this time.

                CAPT Allen P. Cook, Jr., USN, relieved CAPT Stimson as Commanding Officer in 1962. In 1963, CAPT Willard W. De Venter, USN, relieved CAPT Cook as Commanding Officer. CAPT William H. Pellett, USN, relieved CAPT De Venter as Commanding Officer in 1964.

                The year 1965 found Estes in Southeast Asia once more for her second Vietnam deployment, under the command of CAPT Albert K. (Bert) Earnest, USN (Note 5). CAPT Earnest was relieved in October of 1966 by CAPT Hugh D. Murphree, USN.

                With CAPT Murphree in command in 1968, Estes proceeded to her third Vietnam tour. While in Subic Bay in February, CAPT Jens B. Hansen, USN, relieved CAPT Murphree as Commanding Officer. The Southeast Asia tour was interrupted by a yard period in Yokosuka in August and, early in 1969, Estes returned to San Diego, where she was soon to lose her AGC designator in favor of reclassification as LCC_12.

                In April of 1969, CAPT Edward B. Rogers, Jr., USN, relieved CAPT Hansen as Commanding Officer. Estes' subsequent deployment to the Far East commenced that summer and was expected to extend for eight or more months. As soon as her relief, USS Blue Ridge (LCC_19), was completed at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, commissioned, underwent sea trials, and arrived in the Far East, Estes would be released for return to San Diego. (Blue Ridge was the first of a new class of 23_knot, 19,290_ton LCCs.)

                After a stop at Pearl Harbor, Estes proceeded to the Far East. She made many calls, including Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, Korea, Da Nang (Tourane), and Hong Kong. An unexpected turn of events precluded visits to Australia and Bangkok.

                About three months into the deployment, CAPT Rogers received orders to return to San Diego for decommissioning. Back in San Diego, BOSN Johnny Boy Wade remained aboard to strip everything of value before Estes was ordered into oblivion.

                On 31 October 1969, Estes was decommissioned for the final time.


     “ 1977 when I was a second class aboard the USS Tripoli (LPH_10) I boarded the ex_Estes just prior to her being towed away for scrapping. This was at Pier 4, 32nd Street Naval Station, San Diego. She had been offered to COMPHIBRON FIVE units for cannibalization of anything we could use. A seaman and myself[sic] went aboard her several times but about the only thing we could use were some labels and book binders which I assume are still in use aboard Tripoli.

     “Estes was without power with one sentry at her quarterdeck. One string of lights had been strung belowdecks[sic] to provide a bit of lighting, however, you needed a flashlight to move around. The decks were cluttered with all kinds of paperwork especially in the areas that I assumed belonged to Supply Department, i.e., invoices, receipts, etc..... CIC, my profession, was a wreck with smashed vertical plotting boards and NC_2 face; the same was true with the area I took to be Flag Plot, behind the Flag Bridge. Radio still had a lot of gear but it was outdated. I can still remember thinking at the time at just how much communications gear they had.....certainly, more than I had seen up until that time. The grand staircase,' as I called it was still intact though the wood had not been polished for a very long time.”

(From an undated letter to Joe Yacona by R.W. (Rick) Dillard, OSCS(SW), USN)

(The mention of the grand staircase is, to me, a puzzlement, as Estes had none, certainly not in the sense of that which adorned liners such as The Queen Mary. Chief Dillard might be referring to Estes' accommodation ladder.)


Note 1: One of many true heroes, CAPT Jack S. Holtwick, Jr., USN, Estes' Commanding Officer number five, was one who operated and programmed the IBM machines in the basement operations, known later as The Fleet Radio Unit, Pacific, or FRUPac. He was one of those gifted, dedicated, wonderfully competent, though somewhat eccentric members of CDR Joseph J. Rochefort's staff of cryptanalysts, cryptographers and translators who, collectively, broke the Japanese' most secret codes and ciphers.

                Cap'n Jack died 8 January 1987 at Kaneohe Bay, HI.

For a more complete account of the accomplishments of CAPT Holtwick and the FRUPac team, see HOLMES, W.J. Double_Edged Secrets: U.S. Naval Intelligence Operations in the Pacific During World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1979.

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Note 2: Jacob Wilson Waterhouse was born in West Virginia 3 August 1906, was graduated 97th of 240 in the Class of 1929 from the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, retired as RADM Jacob W. Waterhouse, USN, 1 July 1959 and died 17 December 1980 at Wheeling, West Virginia.

Then-CDR Waterhouse commanded Fletcher-Class U.S.S. Luce (DD-522) at the time of the Okinawa invasion. Roscoe (see below) tells the story grimly:

As the Battle for Okinawa raged into May 1945, all hope for a quick wind-up of the operation expired. It expired in the crash of shells and bombs ashore where the Shuri Line sprawled across the terrain like the swath of a forest fire. And it expired in the island’s coastal waters where the destroyer picket line fought maniacal death from the sky.

From Theodore Roscoe: UNITED STATES DESTROYER OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR II, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis 1953, pages 478-479:

“Loss of U.S.S. Luce

" ... May 4 was ... another bad day for the picket line. Or, to put it in proper perspective, a day worse than usual. For every Okinawa day was a 24-hour ordeal of sweat and apprehension and nerve strain.

“May 4th was the last day for 149 of the crew of U.S.S. Luce and 152 of the crew of U.S.S. Morrison. The “Divine Wind” blew foul for the American Destroyer Force that morning!
“Destroyer Luce (Commander J.W. Waterhouse) was stationed as fighter-director ship on the radar picket line. At 0740 – the tag-end of the morning watch, when haggard crews were gulping coffee before “going on,” and weary hands were sighing with what little relief could be had by “going off” – at 0740 the enemy bat-men were sighted. Then nobody went off watch. Bong! Bong! Bong! General Quarters! A concerted dash for battle stations. Gunners scrambled to their mounts. Talkers hitching into their gear. The C.I.C. team pitching in. Babel[sic] on the radio-telephone. The CAP fighter planes vectored out to intercept. Back-talk between ship and sky.
‘Bugeye One, this is Bugeye! Five bandits at Angel[sic] six! Vector six zero. Buster! Over!’
‘Bugeye, this is Bugeye One! Tallyho! Splashed one Emily and one Judy! Out!’

“The CAP fighters intercepted, American and Jap planes tangling and weaving in furious dogfight. But two of the Japs escaped the aerial melee. Down the sky they came as though in grooves, straight for the destroyer Luce.

“Her guns rattled and banged, flaying the air with flak, but the planes ripped in through the blazing curtain. One smashed into the ship’s starboard side abreast the No. 1 stack. The explosion showered the superstructure with fire, spreading flames over a mangle of men, guns, and machinery. The second plane roared in on the port quarter to crash the hull near the after engine-room. Framework gave under the blast; water plunged into the engineering spaces; Luce was done for.

“For several minutes the battered destroyer remained on an even keel; then she slopped over in a starboard list and began to settle rapidly by the stern. Word was passed to abandon – to those who could hear it – and the survivors hustled to get overside[sic].

“There was little time. An inrush of water carried the ship down, stern first, and under a fog of smoke she was gone. Where Luce had been, the sea was clotted with oil and debris and swimming men. The ‘Pall Bearers’ closed in to rescue the survivors. Of the 186 who were picked up, 57 were severely wounded, and 37 were suffering from minor injuries.

“Referring to the sudden death which struck Luce, a destroyer officer wrote grimly, ‘This action shows the virtual impossibility of stopping a determined suicide-plane attack.’”

Later, then-Captain Waterhouse went on to become the sixth Commanding Officer of USS Estes (AGC-12), September 1953-November 1954.

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Note 3:   Mell Andrew Peterson was born in Iowa 7 September 1908, was graduated 78th of 402 in the Class of 1930 from the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, retired as RADM Mell A. Peterson, USN, 1 November 1959 and died at the Long Beach Naval Hospital, California 15 October 1970.

During WW II, then-CDR M.A. “Pete” Peterson, USN, served for a time on the staff of CinCPac ADM Chester W. Nimitz, USN. Commander Peterson recalled grimly the results of hiking on sand (with Admiral Nimitz), in company with Admiral Ray Spruance and some other staff officers. “You lose a layer of skin on the bottoms of your feet [which] are sensitive for two or three days.” Certainly these brisk afternoon excursions were healthful and invigorating, but they were not as popular among his staff as Nimitz seemed to believe. (Some actually hid in closets or under desks to avoid them.)

Parenthetically, Commander Peterson called Spruance “Prim,” while some junior officers referred to him as “Old Frozen Face.”

Later in the war, Commander Peterson served as Commanding Officer of USS Cooper (DD-695), a “short-hull” 2200-ton, “six-gun” destroyer. Cooper’s demise at Ormoc Bay, on Leyte’s west coast , and a very near-thing for Commander Peterson is chronicled in Theodore Roscoe: UNITED STATES DESTROYER OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR II, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis 1953, page 444:

Loss of U.S.S. Cooper

“Entering Ormoc Bay with Sumner [class leader U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner (DD-692)], and Moale [U.S.S. Moale (DD-693)], the Cooper made surface contact with a target at 12,200 yards range just minutes after midnight. Commander M.A. Peterson gave the order to open fire. For nine minutes the destroyer’s guns pumped 5-inch at the target. Then the ship, evidently a large destroyer, was seen to be burning – sinking under a cloud of flame. This was the Jap DD Kuwa. She had been transporting reinforcements for Yamashita’s Leyte garrison. Many of those infantrymen never made it. About 250 of them floated in to the Ormoc beaches for a hasty burial.

“Cooper immediately shifted fire to a second target, but was unable to learn the results of her gunnery, for only minute or two later she was struck by an undersea weapon just as she completed a turn.

“A huge explosion heeled the Cooper on her side. Fire and water swept over her superstructure, and within 30 seconds of the blast she broke in two. The survivors swam in swirling oil and hot foam under a fog of smoke. Division Commander Zahm on Sumner was faced with a bitterly difficult decision – to risk air attack and fire from shore batteries in an effort to save Cooper’s men, or pull out to assure the safety of his two remaining ships. Reviewing the case, an experienced destroyer officer wrote: ‘It was a tough decision. But, in deciding not to make the rescue attempt, the Division Commander did the right thing.’

“Most of the Cooper survivors were picked up between mid-afternoon and dusk of that day by U.S. Navy “Black Cat” planes.  While swimming in the Bay, the afflicted destroyermen noted the fire of heavy shore batteries. They also saw several submarines sneak out through the entrance. The presence of subs in Ormoc Bay suggested that Cooper might have been the victim of a giant ‘Long Lance’ torpedo. Down with the ship went 10 officers and 181 men. Some 168 of Cooper’s crew were saved.”
After the war, now-CAPT Peterson went on to become the seventh Commanding Officer of USS Estes (AGC-12), relieving CAPT J.W. Waterhouse, USN, in Hong Kong, 18 November 1954.

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Note 4:    Rollin Everton Westholm was born in Minnesota 16 August 1911, graduated with the Class of 1934 from the U.S. Naval Academy. Captain Westholm retired 1 July 1984 and died at Annapolis 26 February 1989.

Then -LT Westholm spent a lifetime in just a few months, holding the line in the Solomon Islands during the dark early days of WW II. He commanded PT Squadron TWO, which included LTJG Jack Kennedy’s PT_109.
(A more complete account of the Devil Boats may be found in BREWER, WILLIAM B. Devil Boats_ The PT War Against Japan. Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1987.)

From Theodore Roscoe: UNITED STATES DESTROYER OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR II, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis 1953, pp. 438, 439, 474:

“On 1 November 1944, the Japs made an all-out effort to blast the Seventh Fleet’s forces covering the operations at Leyte Gulf. Covering on 1 November was task Group 77.1, under Rear Admiral G.L. Weyler, consisting of battleships, cruisers and 19 destroyers, one of which, Fletcher-Class USS Bush (DD-529), was under the command of CDR R.W. Westholm, USN.

“At 0916 an air alert was sounded for the second time as the radar watches reported Jap planes in the offing. Zigzagging, the task group stepped up speed and contracted the screen. Action began at 0940 when destroyer Bush, on patrol in South Surigao Strait, opened fire with all guns on a “Betty” which came in on the ship’s starboard beam. A torpedo was narrowly avoided by the destroyer as she poured 40 mm fire into the plane.

“Four minutes later another “Betty” attacked Bush, which dodged another torpedo by swerving left with hard rudder, and her guns brought the plane down in a swirl of fire 100 yards from the ship.

“At 0951 a third “Betty” attacked Bush. The destroyer gunners poured fire into the plane, but the aircraft got close enough to drop a 500-pound bomb whish exploded about 60 feet from the ship’s starboard quarter. Flying shrapnel gave the ship a clawing. The plane escaped.

“At 1007 Bush drove off a fourth “Betty.” At 1044 two more “Bettys” attacked the destroyer, and the ship dodged another aerial torpedo. One of the “Bettys” roared down Bush’s starboard side, the tail gunner lashing at the vessel with machine-gun fire. Two sailors were wounded, but the plane got a belly-full of automatic fire for her pains.

“Ten minutes later two “Zekes” pounced on the DD. After she hit one of them with 5-inch, the pair headed for the clouds. At 1100 a “Zeke” (apparently the one which had been hit) came down in what appeared to be a suicide dive on the ship. The plane dropped a small bomb which missed. Bush’s sharpshooters did not miss. Riddled, the “Zeke” plunged into the sea 50 yards astern.

“At 1111 the indomitable Bush drove off still another “Betty.” This was her last air battle of the day. The skies over her vicinity cleared at noon, and her crew took time out to mop their fevered brows. That had been a very busy morning for Bush, in fact such a good day’s work that CDR Rollin E. Westholm won special commendation from Rear Admiral Weyler. Bush’s performance also won special mention from Tokyo Rose. Going on the air with her daily broadcast on 2 November, she paid Bush this compliment: “Our aircraft attacked a lone American destroyer which had automatic 5-inch guns.”

“Loss of U.S.S. Bush

“Leaving Leyte on 27 March 1945, the Bush, (Commander R.E.Westholm) steamed north, eventually to occupy No. 1 Picket Station, which was located 51 miles north of Okinawa. On April 2, the destroyer Pritchett reported to relieve her, and Bush proceeded to Kerama Retto for fuel. On the next day, word was received that the Pritchett had been seriously damaged by a suicide plane. Bush was at once ordered back on station.

“From April 3 to April 5 the Japs gave the destroyer a nasty time. She succeeded in repelling the air attacks and in warning the task force of impending strikes. Her luck ended on April 6. During the early hours of that day the destroyer took four different targets under fire, shooting down one. But the attackers were persistent, and at midday they swarmed all over the ship.

“Shortly after 1500, just when the third raid in half an hour was driven off, a lone Jap suicider came streaking in about 30 feet above the water. The pilot ran into a streak of bullets and shells. Fragments broke away from his plane. But accurate fire could not deter him. The Kamikaze crashed with a huge explosion at deck level on the ship’s starboard side between No. 1 and No. 2 stacks. A torpedo or bomb exploded in the forward engine-room with such force that a six-foot section of engine-room blower, weighing about 4,000 pounds, was flung into the air high enough to knock off the radar antenna and land on the port wing of the bridge. The bursting plane scattered firebrands across the deck, and flame spurted form the wreckage.

“The fires were beaten down by damage-control crews, and water-tight integrity was preserved sufficiently to keep the vessel afloat. Destroyer Colhoun came in from a near-by picket station to offer assistance. Then, at 1700, while all hands were battling to save the Bush, a flight of 10 to 15 Jap planes swept in. The Colhoun was hit immediately, and the Bush received her second smash 25 minutes later. This Kamikaze crash nearly cut her in two. At 1745 a third Kamikaze plummeted into the blazing destroyer. That was the end of Bush. The ship broke up and sank about 1830.

“Four LCS’s and several other craft searched the seascape for survivors. By daybreak of the 7th some 246 of the crew were recovered. Eighty-seven officers and men were killed in the murderous action, and 42 were wounded. Among those who died in Bush was Commander J.S. Willis, ComDesDiv 48.”

CAPT Westholm went on to command Estes, serving as Commanding Officer number 10, April 1958_May 1959. He died 26 February 1989 at Annapolis.

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Note 5:    ENS Albert K. (Bert) Earnest, USN, had never flown out of sight of land when he, in company with five other brand_new Grumman TBF's headed for Midway 1 June 1942.  Too late to accompany the carrier USS Hornet(CV_8), the six newcomers planned to fly into battle from that island. In the ensuing Battle of Midway, Hornet-based Torpedo Squadron Eight paid an enormous price: Only ENS George Gay of the 15 TBD (old and obsolescent torpedo bomber) pilots flying from the Hornet survived the day; of the six TBF's flying from Midway, only Bert Earnest and Harry Ferrier (Earnest's radioman and tunnel gunner) survived, although severely wounded in several attacks by angry Zeros.
Later, CAPT Earnest went on to become the 17th Estes' Commanding Officer. Millie and he live in Virginia Beach, VA.

A more complete account of CAPT Earnest's ordeal may be found in EARNEST, CAPT ALBERT K. USN (RET) AND FERRIER, CDR HARRY USN (RET). Avengers at Midway. Foundation Magazine _ The Naval Aviation Museum. (800) 327_5002. Pensacola. Spring 1996.

While there are undoubtedly others who qualify as heroes as well, apologies are offered to those omitted, pleading ignorance.

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USS Estes


USS ESTES (AGC_12) Commanding Officers, 1944_1969

  10/44 3/47 Bob O. Mathews
  3/47 7/47 W.H. Brereton
  7/47 6/49 James B. Hogle
  6/50 4/52 Robert W. Wood
  4/52 9/53 Jack S. Holtwick, Jr.
  9/53 11/54 Jacob W. Waterhouse
  11/54 12/55 Mell A. Peterson
  12/55 ?/56 Maxim W. Firth
  ?/56 4/58 James B. Burrow
  4/58 5/59 Rollin E. Westholm
  5/59 2/60 Jesse B. Gay, Jr.
  2/60 5/61 Richard H. Woodfin, Jr.
  5/61 ?/62 Paul C. Stimson
  ?/62 ?/63 Allen P. Cook, Jr.
  ?/63 ?/64 Willard W. De Venter
  ?/64 10/65 William H. Pellett
  10/65 10/66 Albert K. Earnest
  10/66 2/68 Hugh D. Murphree
  2/68 4/69 Jens B. Hansen
  4/69 10/69 Edward B. Rogers, Jr.

(Some dates of command are approximate.)


USS ESTES (AGC_12) specifications (as built)




7,510 tons (light)


459' 2"



  Draft: 24'

16 knots



633 total



Two 5"/38, eight 40mm




Battle Stars


World War II:








With greatest appreciation for the information furnished – knowingly or unknowingly – through or by:

Dr. Dean Allard
National Archives and Records Administration
Washington, DC

Navy Department
Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
Division of Naval History (OP_29)
Washington, DC

John Reilly
Ships Histories Branch
Washington Navy Yard
Washington, DC

Whoever published History of USS ESTES (AGC_12), dated 1956

1954_55 Far East Cruise Book

1959 Far East Cruise Book, courtesy of Roger McCollum,
      Huntington Beach, CA

1965 Far East Cruise Book, courtesy of John Chadwell,
     Los Alamitos, CA

CAPT R.E. (Doc) Austin, USN (Ret.), La Jolla, CA

CAPT Barry V. Burrow, USN (Ret.), Richland, WA

LT Delbert F. Catron, USN (Ret.)

USS BELLE GROVE (LSD_2) Historical Organization
Midway City, CA

CAPT Jesse B. Gay, Jr., USN (Ret.), Falls Church, VA

CAPT Jens B. Hansen, USN (Ret.), Green Valley, AZ

CAPT Ed Rogers, Jr., USN (Ret.), Coronado, CA

Ronald F. Lashmett, El Toro, CA

H.E. (Ed) Little, Escondido, CA

LCDR Howard R. McCreery, USNR (Ret), Almeria, Spain

LT H.A. (Tony) Miller, USN (Ret.), Alexandria, LA

CDR Ken Mills, USN, Waldorf, MD

MACM(AC) Henry J. Rausch, Jr., USN (Ret), Bremerton, WA

Joseph E. Yacona, St. Petersburg, FL



5 November 1990
Revised 21 November 1992
Revised Again 8 January 1998
Again, 30 May 2002
And Again, 14 August 2002
One More Time, 28 August 2002

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