Memorial Exercise : Photos
USS Housto Survivors' Association and Next Generations Organization.
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began with shreds of memories of World War II as they spilled from
my 60-year-old scrapbook of family memorabilia. A Santa Rosa Junior
College history teacher had asked me to bring the scrapbook to her
class on Monday, November 6. Six members of our autobiographical
writing class were invited to tell her young students what it was
like for us during the wars we wrote about in our book, O‚er
Thursday our writing instructor read her published news story about
the grand opening and dedication of the Petaluma Memorial Museum
on Veterans Day, November 11, 2000. The 400-plus names of Sonoma
County‚s war heroes killed in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam
and the Gulf War would be read at the ceremony. The name of my brother,
Claude William Lattin, lost on the USS Houston on March 1, 1942,
would be one of the names read.
Saturday I went to the dedication with my son, Craig, a navy veteran
and history buff. The small outdoor ceremony deeply touched us.
Craig‚s sister, Leslie arrived the afternoon of the dedication.
She had many questions about the loss of the Uncle Bill she and
Craig had never known.
the 1970s when Craig was stationed with the navy at nearby Skaggs
Island, he located and gave me a 1976 book, The Lonely Ships, The
Life and Death of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet by Edwin P. Hoyt. It was
the first information I had about the Houston other than my brother‚s
having served and died on it.
Later, in 1995, we learned the Houston's bell had been recovered
from Sunda Strait and would be the centerpiece of a memorial monument
to be dedicated to the ship and her crew on Veterans Day in Houston,
Texas. My husband, Bob and I attended the dedication and stayed
at the Allen Park Inn where we met a number of the ship‚s survivors,
former POWs. Those few days were a tremendously emotional experience
which brought a measure of closure for me, although we did not talk
with anyone who specifically remembered my brother. There, I obtained
another book, The Fleet the Gods Forgot, The U.S. Asiatic Fleet
in World War II, by W. G. Winslow.
better understand the sequence of events during the Houston as last
days, Leslie and I decided to re-create the scene on our large dining
table, using these two books and more information she found on the
Internet. Our idea was to simulate the oceans, seas, islands and
battles atop the blue tablecloth.
was soon obvious as we sketched the area onto the cloth, that there
wasn‚t room to begin the story with the Asiatic Fleet as departure
from the Philippines before the Pearl Harbor attack. The sheer numbers
of vessels in the area also precluded our re-creating the Battle
of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942. We decided to confine the
exercise to the Houston‚s final seven-hour story on February 28
and March 1.
enlisted by telephone, did not have time to help with the details
but urged us to research the ships, their classes, and countries.
He would come Tuesday night when the re-enactment would unfold.
and I studied the ships of the ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian)
Allied command. We settled on small pieces of color-coded paper
with the class and name of each ship printed by computer: the American
vessels were orange, the British were pink, the Dutch were teal,
and the Australians were green. We decided yellow was appropriate
for the Japanese ships.
names of the ABDA ships were inadvertently printed in a smaller
font than used for the Japanese. The yellow vessels were clearly
overwhelming even though a single yellow piece represented the sixty
Japanese transports attempting to land troops in Java when the remnants
of the Allied ships surprised them.
seemed to us there was a short period, as Allied cruisers Houston
and the Australian Perth entered Sunda Strait, that the Allies might
have been able to rally their forces to prevail. Hindsight led our
navy veteran to point this out as the battle unfolded. However,
documented faulty or non-existent communications, the language barrier
and a disorganized Command made this impossible. The February 27th
Battle of the Java Sea had already marked the collapse of Allied
sea power in the Dutch East Indies. The anti-climactic losses of
the Houston and Perth in the Battle of Sunda Strait were pre-ordained
when they occurred on February 28th and the early hours of March
An 8" x 10" photo of Bill, RM 2C, in uniform, overlooked our diorama.
A title page proclaimed it the "BILL" LATTIN and U.S.S. HOUSTON
MEMORIAL EXERCISE, BATTLE OF SUNDA STRAIT, FEB. 28 Ų MAR 1, 1942."
The color key identified the nationalities of the vessels. Landmasses
and bodies of water were prominently labeled. We read the battle
story aloud as we clustered around the table re-creating Java Sea
ship movement to the Sunda Strait events. The overpowering number
of yellow destroyers, cruisers, carriers and transports and the
sunken Allied ships with black crosses over their names emphasized
the Allied defeat.
was an exercise that visually and indelibly reminded us of the sad
story of our personal loss as well as that of the aging and inadequate
Asiatic Fleet less than three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
morning as I dismantled the diorama, I realized I had not completed
the exercise by putting a cross, our symbol for sunken vessels,
on Houston, Perth and Dutch destroyer Evertsen which followed them.
I wonder, was it happenstance that their names were printed in a
smaller font Ų and why did I not put the black cross over their
names? Was it because my brother and many of his shipmates are still
on watch aboard the Houston in Sunda Strait? Their heroism cannot
be erased by such a symbol.