The following story was provided by Joe Desch, USS Helena CL-50

Terry Dempsey

Carpenters Mate First Class

The Attack on Pearl Harbor

I was studying the manual to become a second Class Petty officer while waiting for the 0800 mass to begin when the general alarm sounded.

I dropped the manual and ran to my battle station up forward near the paint locker. I was by the Gee Dunk stand when the torpedo struck the hull of the Helena. Had I been ten feet further on I would have been killed, or severly injured by the explosion. Fortunately the dungarees and short sleeve shirt I was wearing protected me from being seriously burned. Only my arms, eyebrows and hair were singed. The torpedo went -under the USS Oglala, tied up to our starboard side, exploded against our hull and blew the bottom out of the Oglala.

Some of my shipmates and I cut the lines holding her to us and a couple of tug boats pulled her aft to the dock where she sank. Because I was the one that cut the lines Lee Goldfarb, a radioman on the Oglala, and a past president of the Pearl Harbors Survivors Association personally blamed me for the sinking. Had the Oglala sunk alongside the Helena, we would have been pinned to the dock for months.

In the late afternoon, I helped remove the bodies of the men killed down below. Sal Albanese, Fireman Second Class, had been on his way to the engine room when he was killed by the blast. His was the first dead body I ever encountered.

After temporary repairs at Pearl, the ship sailed to California for a complete overhaul, and most of us were given thirty days leave. At the completion of the repairs we sailed to the South Pacific to continue the war.

The Final Fight At Kula Gulf

My job during the battle was to keep the empty six inch shell casings from stacking up under number five turret as they were being ejected at the rear of the turret. Unless they were removed they would pile up like a massive log jam, and prevent the turret from rotating. We tossed or kicked them aside or overboard but made no attempt to stack them. They were hot, bulky and heavy and to protect our hands and arms we wore heavy shoulder length canvas gloves. Following behind the rotating turret was backbreaking, dangerous work that at times exposed us to the muzzle blast of the nearby turret.

The noise was deafening and the constant gun flashes made it almost impossible to see anything of the battle although we could see the glow from our shells heading for the enemy ships. It looked like a red or orange colored stream of water coming from a hose, except it was an unbroken string of armor piercing five and six inch shells. At the same time Japanese shells and torpedoes were coming our way.

After the guns stopped firing I left my position at the turret and went forward to see how severely the ship was damaged. I was stunned to see that the bow had been blown off and the ship breaking apart admidships.

Before abandoning ship I hurried aft to my battle station and removed my shoes. I placed them on deck thinking I would need them when I came back aboard. I know that doesn't make much sense but that's what I thought at the time. I had two life jackets on, the standard kapok jacket and an inflatable one.

The oil in the water was about six inches deep and very heavy, making kapok life jacket less buoyant than it would normally be. I think we all worried about how long an oil soaked kapok jacket would keep us afloat. Most of us also had inflatable jackets but the oil made it almost impossible to unscrew the valve to blow them up.

Sometime during the second day in the water Commander Berkle's kapok jacket floated by so I took my water logged jacket off and put his on. I guess he didn't have time to tie it on, trying to get aboard one of the rescuing destroyers He was a fine officer and a fine human being.

The rafts were at first quite close together and I swam to at least three of them before I finally stayed with the one that took me to the island.

The injured were put inside and the rest of us hung on the outside. I can't recall how many men were on each raft but it must have been between twenty and thirty. Some of the fellow's eyes were infected from the oil and filled with pus. The reflection of the hot sun on the water made the infections scab, virtually blinding the men and causing severe pain. I had no trouble with oil in my eyes because of the handkerchiefs I carried in a waterproof condom. I dipped them in the water, well below the level of the oil, and used uncontaminated, salty sea water to wipe them clean.

Toward the end of the second day we started losing some of the men. In their confused state of mind they kept swimming away from the raft. Some said they were going home, or down below to their bunk, and others simply gave up.

Carpenters Mate Second Class Floyd Morris swam away twice and both times I swam out and brought him back but I had to tell him I couldn't do it again. I said, "You're on your own Floyd." "I'm not strong enough to save you again." Floyd couldn't swim and his life jacket was so water logged his chin was barely out of the water. Because of the oil he had swallowed he was vomiting green mucus. I eventually left that raft and swam to another one. I later heard that Floyd managed to hold on and survive.

I also remember rescuing a Mess Attendant by the name of Kelly but I finally had to tell him, "I can't take care of you any more Kelly." I wasn't being mean or uncaring, but like most of the men I was losing strength and had only enough to take care of myself. I saw him afterwards and was glad he made it.

There was nothing to eat or drink on the rafts. The water in the beakers wasn't fit to drink, but I don't remember being thirsty. We all suffered from the blinding rays of the sun and it was beginning to be every man. for himself. We were all weak from the nearly constant immersion in salt water and sick from swallowing the oil.

We could see the islands. They looked within swimming distance, but were actually several miles away. Ensign Washburn, the only officer on the raft, thought he could swim ashore and get help. I don't believe anyone saw him or his body after he left the raft. I remember him as a nice guy and am sorry he didn't survive.

After Ensign Washburn left there was no one in command. When one of the men, a boatswain mate second class, lost control of himself I thought we needed someone to keep a degree of order and discipline so I took command. Only four of us were left.

The water was shallow where we landed and there was no surf, but the walk over the coral was terrible. Prior to every battle I put on two pairs of socks to help prevent flash bums but now I had socks on only one foot. I don't know how that happened but at least my one foot held up better than the other one.

Since we couldn't have survived many more days adrift we were relieved to be ashore. Though we didn't know what lay ahead I was willing to become prisoner rather than die at sea, adrift on a raft. I saw too many of my shipmates gc that way.

One of the fellows, a quartermaster, took off his clothes and started walking naked up and down the beach. His white body stood out like a beacon and had a Jap plane flown over it would be clear to him who we were. I ordered him into the brush. In fact I punched him into the brush and told him not to be out walking or the beach.

When the natives found us we fell to our knees and thanked them. They lead us to the Chinaman's camp and gave us burlap sacks that we wore while on the island.

There was not much to do in camp except rest, but every day two or three of us would go down to the stream for water to carry back in empty ammunitior canisters that had floated ashore.

Commander Boles issued most of the orders but didn't push his weight around. There was no need to.

After the war I went into the restaurant business and one day three of my old shipmates came in. We talked about our experiences and thought it would be a good idea to hold a reunion. We've had one every two years since 1954. Our 1993 reunion in Las Vegas marked the fiftieth year since the sinking. Sometimes it seems like yesterday.

Carpenters Mate First Class Terry Dempsey's Military Awards

Navy Unit Commendation

Good Conduct Medal

American Defense Medal

American Campaign Medal

Asiatic Pacific Medal
With Eight (8) Battle Stars

World War II Victory Medal

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