Letter home provides taste of battle at sea

Mark Brooky • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:13 AM

“He was always very patriotic and loved his country,” Sandi said. “He talked a lot about being on the ship, the USS Remey.”

Oscar “Sonny” Wilson was born in Georgetown, Ill., and grew up in Danville, Ill. In June 1943 at the age of 18, he joined the U.S. Navy, and served until he was honorably discharged in March 1946. He moved to Muskegon and worked at the Bennett Pump Co. for 45 years.

“His favorite place to go was the Bil-Mar (in Grand Haven), when they had live bands and dancing,” Sandi said.

Sandi was living in California when her father died in June 1992. She moved back to West Michigan in 1998.

Going through a box of her father’s belongings after the funeral, Sandi found some of his wartime photos and a five-page handwritten letter he wrote to his parents in Illinois, dated Nov. 6, 1944.

At the time, Wilson was serving aboard the Remey in the Pacific Theater. The Remey was the flagship of the Navy’s Destroyer Squadron 54.

The letter provides a glimpse of a sailor’s life aboard ship during a World War II sea battle.

“Dear folks, I hope this letter finds you all in the best of health and everything in good shape at home,” Wilson began. He then explained why they hadn’t heard from him for a while, and that the Navy now granted “permission to write about our latest engagement with the enemy.”

Wilson then detailed a portion of the invasion of the Philippines — the U.S. Navy’s engagement with the Japanese navy in the narrow Surigao Strait in late October 1944. Describing the action from aboard the  Remey, he said the Japanese initially kept up an “endless string” of air attacks.

“Except for the air attacks and a few mines, the first couple (of) days were pretty quiet,” Wilson wrote.

Wilson explained how his torpedo crew prepared themselves for the eventual encounter with the Japanese, including some “grim” humor to ease the tension.

“As time grew short, the suspense stiffened,” he wrote. “I believe everyone uttered a prayer that we would be successful and come out of it victorious, and spare those back home unnecessary grief in the event of our not coming out of the torpedo run successfully.”

After the Remey fired a slew of torpedoes (they called them “fish”) at the enemy ships, a Japanese battleship put a searchlight on Wilson’s destroyer and fired at them. The Remey dodged enemy torpedoes as it escaped the battle, making way for the bigger battleships to finish the job.

“Everyone was firing torpedoes, but only those made in USA were hitting,” Wilson wrote. “One thing was definitely settled that night — the Japs were no match for the U.S. Navy.”

Wilson reassured his parents that he was “well, safe and not in any way injured, so please don’t worry.”

Wilson later served aboard the USS Harrier, a minesweeper that was only commissioned for a few months in 1946, and rose to rank of fire controlman 3rd class.

He received the Asiatic Pacific Area Campaign Medal, Victory Medal, American Area Campaign Medal and Philippine Liberation Ribbon during his service in World War II.

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