For Veteran’s Day we are honoring 2 of our Fox Island Veterans – Lyle Allen and Gordon Wilkerson. Here are their stories:
The Miraculous Voyage of the USS Marblehead and Fox Islander Lyle Allen
Lyle Allen was born February 1st 1922. His parents were living at that time in the nearby farming community of Milton. By 1930 the family had bought a farm on Fox Island and were operating it on what is now Bella Bella. Lyle went to the Fox Island School (now Nichols Community Center) but left school after 8th grade.
On December 3rd 1940 Lyle caught the Interurban to Seattle and enlisted in the Navy. He underwent basic training at the Naval Training Station in San Diego. On February 21st 1941 Lyle joined his first ship the USS Richmond, an Omaha-class light cruiser as an Apprentice Seaman. Lyle was received aboard his second ship, the USS Marblehead, referred to affectionately by her crew as Marby. Marby would be his home for the next 17 months.
On February 4th 1942 Marby was badly bombed in the Battle of Makassar Strait and left as sunk by the Japanese. She was grievously damaged – a nine-foot hole in her hull, 34 compartments flooded, steering inoperable, electrical power reduced and speed nearly halved. Through the heroic efforts of the crew over the next 89 days Marby sailed more than 20,000 miles home for repairs.
The Japanese reported Marby sunk several times following the Battle of Makassar Strait so Lyle’s family likely thought he was dead or in enemy hands until he called home with the good news on May 5th 1942, the day after the ship made New York. Marby’s repairs would take five and a half months to complete. During that period Lyle spent 21 days in the Naval Hospital. He was back aboard Marby on October 15th 1942 when she steamed out of New York to rejoin the war effort. This time home-ported in Recife, Brazil patrolling for Nazi submarines and blockade runners, rescuing downed Allied airmen and enemy crewmen from sunken vessels, and occasionally escorting convoys across the North Atlantic
Lyle was honorably discharged on June 29th 1945. After a very eventful WWII he came back to Fox Island and worked on his parent’s farm. While he was working on the Fox Island Bella Bella farm he became a Boy Scout leader. Eventually Lyle worked at the Bremerton Ship Yard. He met Donna May Osborn who he eventually married in the 1970’s. When Donna May Osborn passed away her grown daughters wrote the obituary for their mother and noted that her husband was a WWII hero.
The Story of Pearl Harbor and the USS Tangier as told by Claire Weisser, the great granddaughter of Gordon Wilkerson
Just The Beginning
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”- F. Scott Fitzgerald
It was a pleasant morning in Pearl Harbor. The trees swayed with the slight steady breeze. The birds chirped excitedly, ready to begin a new day. Pedestrians strolled the sidewalks, casually going about their morning routines. No one suspected a thing, least of all Mr. Gordon Wilkerson, my great grandfather, who was stationed aboard the USS Tangier. He was passing his time conversing with the Officer of the Deck. They heard planes overhead and strolled over to the ships railing to observe. Thinking the planes were the ones scheduled to land at Ford Island, no precautions were taken. That’s when my great grandfather noticed the orange sun insignia of the Japanese Empire boldly displayed on the sides and wings of the aircraft. His heart jolted to a stop as realization hit. These were no planes landing at Ford Island. This was a full-fledged Japanese surprise attack. At just before 8am on December 7, 1941, the bombing began.
Amid the chaos he ran to the deck where his antiaircraft gun was located. He found the gun tarped and unarmed. Hearing bombs exploding, he anxiously tore off the tarp while crewmates arrived and started breaking open ammunition boxes and loading the gun. There he witnessed the beginning of World War II for America. Japanese torpedo bombers swooped in and skimmed just of above the top of the water. They released deadly torpedoes that blew massive holes in the broadside of the battleship Utah, anchored astern the Tangier. The holes in the Utah caused it to begin sinking immediately with men gushing out of her hatches, frantically trying to escape the doomed ship.
Officers ran about the Tangier hurriedly warning everyone of this sudden attack. Planes whizzed by the Tangier to execute their bombing on other battleships. One plane passed so close to my great grandfather that he could see the downright evil grin of the bloodthirsty pilot. Rage bubbled up inside him making his head feel ready to explode. After that, he shot at anything in his gunsights. A piece of shrapnel struck him in the neck which would later require many surgeries, but he disregarded it and continued firing. Soon word got around that an enemy submarine had been spotted 800 yards from the Tangier’s starboard bow. Later, it was confirmed that this was a two-man midget submarine and had been sunk by the Tangier’s gunfire. A Japanese plane that was shot down, collided into the back of the USS Curtiss and the USS Medusa. Twenty-five more planes (delayed from the second attack) dove down and delivered a third round of bombing. One of the plane’s engines caught fire. The pilot deliberately crashed into the USS Curtiss. Wreckage flew everywhere. Within fifteen to twenty minutes five more bombs aimed at the Tangier were dropped. All missed by barely fifteen feet. The planes flew on. My great grandfather collapsed onto the Tangier’s railing. When he turned around, he came face to face with the Commanding Officer. The look in the officer’s eyes said it all. This was just the beginning.
Written by Claire Weisser
Rotating Exhibits at Zog’s
The Museum has several photos displayed at Zog’s, located behind the Fox Island Store. Be sure to stop by and check them out!