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May 22nd, 2011 by Richard Lowry
A Final Farewell

Today, Saturday, May 21, 2011, I had the honor of bidding farewell Marion “Turk” Turner’s as his ashes were returned to the sea for his eternal patrol. A cool breeze blew in Bataan’s hanger deck this morning as an honor guard, silhouetted by the bright morning sun, stood at attention in their crisp dress white uniforms. There was a white morning haze separating the deep blue sea and a clear blue sky. It was a perfect day to say goodbye.

Turk was born Marion Turner on April 22, 1918 in Moultrie, Georgia and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1939. He became an Electrician’s Mate and immediately volunteered for the submarine service. He served aboard USS Sealion and USS Perch.

While serving aboard Perch, the boat was attacked by Japanese destroyers on March 1, 1942. The Captain quickly submerged the boat, as the enemy quickly closed in on the American submarine. The relentless depth charge attack drove the boat down to 135 feet. Turk and his friends worked through the night patching leaks and they were finally able to resurface early the next morning to get fresh air and recharge their batteries.

The enemy ships spotted Perch when she surfaced and attacked – again. This time the depth charges exploded dangerously close, rupturing one of Perch’s ballast tanks, belching oil and bubbles toward the surface. Perch waited in silence until it was safe to surface again. They patched up all they could but the damage was too severe to allow Perch to submerge again. Unable to submerge, the boat’s captain, Lieutenant Commander David A. Hurt ordered the ship to be abandoned and the submarine scuttled.

Years later, Turner recalled: “… as we were given the order to ‘abandon the boat’ when Perch was going down, our captain was the last man off the conning tower. We were in the water for awhile before the Japanese came by to rescue our crew. We did not know if they were going to shoot us or abandon us to the sea. Hurt was having difficulty treading water as the Japanese ship was rescuing the crew using a rickety ladder.”

The captain told Turner that he “wasn’t going to make it,” and said, “Just leave me Turk, I no longer have the strength to go on, save yourself … leave me.”

“I wasn’t going to listen to that,” Turner remembered, “so I dove down and came up right under him, and I pushed him right up the ladder with him still protesting,”

The entire crew survived that day, but six died later in Japanese POW camps as they all endured cruel beatings, starvation and tropical diseases for three and a half years. Fellow POWs remember Turk for his indomitable spirit. Daily, he would tell his friends, ‘We will be saved tomorrow.’ Turk, his friends and the captain were not rescued until the end of the war. After more than three years of captivity, they returned home to the United States October 17, 1945.

Turk Turner remained in the Navy until he retired on December 1, 1959. He settled in Virginia Beach and because of his POW experience with survivors of the Bataan Death March, became a friend of USS Bataan. Turner made many visits to events sponsored by Bataan until his death on February 28, 2011.

Over sixty years after receiving his injuries while in captivity, Turner was presented the Purple Heart Medal, January 2, 2011 during a ceremony held at King’s Grant Baptist Church in Virginia Beach.

“Turk showed us all courage and humility during and after facing the enormous struggle of a POW,” said Captain Stephen T. Koehler, who as the commanding officer of USS Bataan, pinned the medals on Turner. “He gave us perspective when we thought we were having a bad day. It only takes a thought of him with his struggle over 60 years ago, and the way he handled it with a positive attitude to shed light on our current day-to-day problems.

“He became a friend and inspiration to both me and the crew of Bataan with this positive attitude and his zest for life,” Koehler continued. “He spent a lot of his time with my young Sailors telling stories and relating his time in submarines and as a POW, for which I am grateful. He was truly a great influence on Bataan Sailors in our quest to keep Bataan’s heritage part of our ship.”

Ted Davis, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former commanding officer of the USS Grenadier SS 525, echoed Plantz’s praise.

“There is nothing Turk wouldn’t do or has not already done for his country, his service, his friends, and his family,” said Davis, a long-time friend and member of the Hampton Roads Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc. “Turk showed us the way a hero walks, softy with love in his heart. He may have spent many tours in Hell, but he served God and country for life.”

This morning, after a short speech and prayer, Turk’s remains were passed to Captain Stephen Koehler, who reverentially placed the ashes under an American flag. Then, Turk was committed to the deep to the sharp shrill whistle of a Boatswain’s Pipe and a final hand salute.

Farewell my brother, may you rest in peace.

Richard S. Lowry is currently embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, on-station in the Mediterranean Sea with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard USS Bataan LHD 5. Richard is a contemporary military historian, award-winning author and former submarine sailor. He is a member of USSVI’s Central Florida Base and served aboard the USS Ulysses S. Grant SSBN 631 from 1968 to 1975. During that time, he made eight deterrent patrols. Read more about Richard and his work at www.richardslowry.com.

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May 19th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Gator Squares

The 22nd MEU has been on station in the Mediterranean for about two weeks now and we have done absolutely nothing to assist the people of Libya who continue to be slaughtered by their own government. We have spent all our time training and avoiding all other shipping. Once our coalition allies realize that the Obama Doctrine is to instigate but not participate, I fear that they too will back away from their mission of helping the Libyan people.

President Obama has publically stated two important goals for the resolution of the Libyan crisis: First, he has said that the fighting must stop and; second – Qaddafi must go.

The President acted decisively in halting the pro-Qaddafi forces’ advance on Benghazi when he ordered 26th MEU’s Harriers to attack the advancing Libyan Army from the air. He has done nothing to work toward his other stated goal and, after our initial involvement, he has done nothing more to stop the fighting. Qaddafi will not just go away on Mr. Obama’s request. Once a president sets a goal, he needs to lead the military in developing plans to achieve that goal.

It appears that Mr. Obama’s plan is to let other nations take the reins while America watches from the grandstands, cheering NATO and the Coalition on from the sidelines. Mr. Obama has abdicated his seat as leader of the free world and obviously washed his hands of the entire mess.

All the while, four thousand Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are driving in circles in the Mederiteranean. We have left our families to wait at home, missed Easter and Mother’s Day, and ten new fathers were not home to see their sons and daughters born. I am all for the existence of an expeditionary force. I am all for our troops, but I must tell you that this is all a giant waste of time and money for 22nd MEU to be sitting out here doing nothing. A young sailor, mother of two children, said to me today, “I feel like I’m in the Navy to help, but I’m not really helping.”

The MEU has the resources needed directly over our horizon. We could help evacuate refugees. We could provide our substantial medical facilities to wounded Libyans. We could contribute to the air raids or help in the maritime embargo or we could put boots on the ground to decapitate the Qaddafi regime.

Yet, we are traveling in circles.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 24th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Another day at sea

Greetings from USS Bataan, underway in the Atlantic

110417-N-7508R-001The young men and women of the United States Navy and Marine Corps live a life most of us could not imagine when they sail the seas for you and me. It is a Spartan life. They leave most of the comforts we take for granted as they sail over the horizon.

Many bring iPods, wet wipes and cookies but their lives are drastically changed when they sail out to sea. My first taste of their sacrifice was the loss of the information we have all become accustomed to receiving at home.

Americans are bombarded with information from the time we get up in the morning, to the time we go to bed at night. We turn on our television sets to get the weather and traffic as we prepare for our day; we listen to our radios as we drive to work; most of us have a computer on our desk where we are literally connected to the world through Facebook, Wikipedia and Google; and if there is some piece of unique information we want – there’s an app for that.

Out here on the sea, the Sailors and Marines have none of that. They are lucky if the satellite connection stays up long enough to receive their few email messages. They are elated if they can sit through a March Madness playoff game without losing the signal while the ball is in the air for the winning shot at the buzzer.

Out here, we get our weather by looking outside and measuring how far our chair slides across the deck in heavy seas. Out here, we get our news by word of mouth, to later realize that it was only rumor.

These young Sailors and Marines sacrifice so much every day just by being out here on the high seas. There are no McDonalds, 7-Elevens or local bars. There are no sidewalks, driveways or trees. Everyone is packed into this giant metal monster, plodding our way across the ocean.

We could see land a few days ago. After a week of crossing the Atlantic, the silhouette of mountains on the horizon was a fascination to the Sailors and Marines on the hanger deck. Everyone moved to get a look as word spread. A small group of Marines joked that they could swim for it and make it to shore: never mind the fact that the white capped waves were ten feet tall in a rolling sea and that land was at least fifteen miles away.

The short thrill dissipated as the land disappeared behind us and the men and women on the hanger deck returned to their daily routine. The Sailors and Marines are kept busy with maintenance, training and drilling but at the end of the day they only have a tiny rack to call their own. Every day is a Monday and hours slowly turn to days. Days drag on into weeks. And weeks give way to months. The only respite from the boredom is mail call.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 13th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Bataan Amphibious Ready Group Receives Visit from Commander, U.S. Second Fleet

Bataan ARGUSS BATAAN, at sea – Sailors and Marines assigned to the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) received a visit from the Commander, U.S. Second Fleet, April 11-12.

Vice Adm. Daniel Holloway visited each of the three ARG ships during the final two days of a rigorous integration training cycle designed to prepare the blue-green team for a broad range of amphibious operations.

During the three weeks of accelerated training, Sailors and Marines tested their ability to perform in such areas as flight deck and well deck operations, air and surface-defense exercises, replenishments-at-sea, small boat operations, medical evacuations, non-combatant evacuation, and tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel.

“I came out here for one reason only, and that is to congratulate you on the way you have come together during this training,” said Holloway in an address to Sailors and Marines on board USS Bataan (LHD 5). “It is no small feat to surge like you have. You have risen to the occasion and knocked this training out of the park.”

The integrated training, conducted by Strike Force Training Atlantic and the Marine Corps’ Special Operation Training Group, began shortly after the Marines embarked March 29.

For many Sailors and Marines, the training marked their first experience working together.

“This is my first deployment, and it took awhile to get used to being on a ship,” said Lance Cpl. Dijon Terry, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263. “I spent the first few days lost and trying to get used to the ship rocking. I feel much more comfortable now and I really like the Sailors and Marines I work with. As we head east, I know we’re ready.”

Holloway was present during the final training exercise, a complex scenario that tested each watch stander’s ability to make tactical decisions and work together as a unified team.

Holloway expressed his satisfaction with the considerable progress Sailors and Marines had achieved during their short time underway, as well as his confidence that the team will only continue to grow stronger as they ‘sharpen the sword’ and refine their skill sets.

“We are proud of you,” said Holloway. “You are the face of the Navy and Marine Corps and the face of the nation.”

The BATARG deployed three months ahead of their original schedule to relieve the Kearsarge ARG and 26th MEU, currently conducting operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

The BATARG is comprised of Bataan, amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19), and amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41).

For more information about Bataan, visit the ship’s website at http://www.bataan.navy.mil.
Reposted with permission from Bataan ARG Public Affairs

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 11th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
At sea with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group.

110408-N-3965T-160Today, April 9, 2011, is the sixty-ninth anniversary of the fall of the Philippine island of Bataan and the beginning of the “Bataan Death March.” The brave men on Bataan had been under siege since the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor.  They held as long as they could without re-supply or reinforcement until they were finally forced to surrender. The 4500 men and women of USS Bataan held a moment of silence today in remembrance of that fateful day in history. It was the first time the ship has been quiet since my arrival eleven days ago.

Our days have been filled with exercises of every sort. We have practiced fires, flooding and defending ourselves from attacks from the air, land and sea. The air crews have been continuously honing their skills on the flight deck. The Air Boss and his staff have been directing the intricate ballet of launching and landing several different kinds of aircraft from this relatively small flight deck.

The ships’ officers have participated in this ballet by working with the Air Boss to correctly position the ship for “Flight Quarters” while avoiding other maritime traffic and, at times, conducting drills to practice evading and fighting off small boat attacks.

The Battalion Landing Team has not sat idly by. They have been practicing helicopter borne raids along with mechanized and motorized operations. These exercises include launching and retrieving our amphibious craft, further complicating the air operations and maneuvering of the ship.

All the while, the ships’ crew has been working to keep this small floating city running. They have manned the engine room, laundry and galleys. They have worked to maintain the sophisticated electronics and weapons systems and they have kept our satellite television and internet connection to the world working.

All the elements of the Blue/Green Team in the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group are coming together and are beginning to operate as a finely tuned instrument. Soon, the world will see the varied capabilities of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked aboard Amphibious Ready Group 6.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 6th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Greetings from USS Bataan, underway in the Atlantic.

IMG_0161On 28 March, 2011, I set off on a great adventure. I was invited to spend four months with 2d Battalion, 2d Marines on their deployment with the 22 Marine Expeditionary Unit. I will be conducting my initial research to tell the Marines’ expeditionary story in a forthcoming book and I will also be writing periodic posts to this web log so that you too can make the journey with these dedicated men and women as they deploy in these troubled times.

This last week has reaffirmed my admiration for the Sailors and Marines who leave their lives behind to sail the seas in the service of their nation. I am traveling with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), carrying the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The blue/green team is known as the ARGMEU. We spent several days loading personnel, equipment, vehicles and aircraft. The Sailors and Marines wasted no time in getting down to business. Everyone is planning and preparing as we are sailing off into history.

The ARGMEU stands ready to provide Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, or to conduct combat missions. The ARGMEU is ready to extend a helping hand or bring down an iron fist. In the words of Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Miller, “Together, as a team, we are stronger than anyone.”

And, this blue/green team is doing it all on a miser’s budget. I know of no better way to project American diplomacy and power around the world. 22nd MEU stands ready for any mission. It is amazing to see all the weapons systems and equipment in top-notch condition, but the ancillary equipment is old and some is in dire need of repair. The Navy and Marine Corps are spending your money wisely but the Amphibious Navy/Marine team needs more, not less.

I am sitting in the wardroom lounge in a chair that is falling apart. The metal desk drawer handles have fallen off and have been replaced more than once. The computer itself is five or six years old. The commercial internet connection that the Marines and Sailors use to communicate with their loved ones is a decade old and is brutally slow. The bathrooms are in need of renovation and so are the Marines living quarters.

Yet, the Sailors and Marines, the ships and aircraft, and all the critical equipment are prepared for whatever may come their way. These young men and women will soon stand ready as America’s next 911 force in the Mediterranean Sea.

Semper Fidelis,
Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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