This is a continuation of the Mid-Watch in Verse series. A Deck Log from a US Navy vessel chronicles exacting administrative detail regarding the status of the ship, it’s location, speed, etc. However, for a four hour period at the beginning of each year, the Officer of the Deck (OOD) is allowed to be creative by writing the Mid-Watch report (0000 – 0400) in verse if they choose to do so. This series highlights examples of this tradition and the officers who posted them. I focus on WWII era deck logs. For a more thorough history of the practice check out this article from the Naval History and Heritage Command.
The USS Altamaha was initially to be a merchant vessel, but in 1942 was acquired by the US Navy and began conversion to an Aircraft Escort Vessel (AVG-18). Over the next year she was reclassified a couple of times until in 1943 she became CVE-18, the designation of an Escort Carrier. Altahama sported only a single shaft and measured just under 500ft in length. With a top speed of 16 knots, this unarmored ship was in a class of vessels vulnerable to attack from below, on the surface, or from the air.
Altahama was commissioned on September 15, 1942, and until her decommissioning in 1946, she spent much of her time ferrying personnel and aircraft to many areas in the south Pacific. One of her most vulnerable times was due to weather. On December 18, 1944, massive Typhoon Cobra hit Bull Halsey’s Task Force 38. The typhoon possessed wind gusts of up to 140mph and sustained wind over 100mph. Three destroyers capsized and were lost. Almost 800 crewmen were lost in this weather event. The Altamaha lost almost one half of her planes over the side due to listing that was reported to have been in the 25-30 degree range to either side.
The Altahama earned one battle star for her service in the Pacific Theater.
Below is the mid-watch verse for January 1, 1943, entered by Lt. Reginald Rutherford Jr. Click here to see the original deck log. Any spelling or grammatical errors are original to the deck log entry.
In Segond Channel we’re anchored – a host –
South of the “Isle of the Holy Ghost” –
Espiritu Santo – We’ve made it a base
From which we intend all the “Nips” to erase.
To the starboard anchor there’s ninety fathoms of chain to keep her in hand,
For twenty-eight fathoms of water flow over a bottom of sand.
The number two boiler is steaming
For purposes auxiliary.
The alertness of the Engineer’s Gang
Is a thing that never does vary.
The hour is late – eight bells has just struck
So the Bearings we’ll check to see if we’re stuck
The store on the beach bears a good three one nine,
While three four four point five is “George” beacon’s line.
And the last one we’re needing to make us a fix,
Is the signal tower’s bearing – Oh five four point six.
We’ve a force here to frighten the “Jappies” away.
But if they should sneak in to give us a boot,
Four forty MM guns are ready to shoot.
Our Squadron’s aboard; we’re ready to fight
Happy New Year to all – May the future be bright.
Reginald Rutherford, Jr. was born to parents Reginald Rutherford Sr. and Katherine Alvord on August 21, 1913, in Washington, DC. Reginald Sr. graduated from George Washington University in 1908 with a Bachelor of Laws degree and worked for many years as assistant treasurer of Union Trust Company in Washington, DC. Reginald Sr. promoted an active lifestyle by being involved in organized sporting events of various types. He was the beloved president of the Washington Canoe Club at the time of his untimely death at age 38. He also held a position as a Vice-Commodore with the American Canoe Association and was a frequent winner of canoe races throughout the eastern U.S.
Less information is publicly available about Katherine, Reginald Jr.’s mother. We know that her family had a long, storied military history. Her grandfather was General Benjamin Alvord Sr., a West Point graduate, amateur mathematician, and botanist with several published papers in the latter two areas. Katherine’s father, Benjamin Alvord, Jr., also graduated from West Point and earned a Distinguished Service Medal and Silver Star Medal during his service, which ended with his retirement in 1924 at the rank of Brigadier General.
Reginald, Jr. also had an additional connection to military service through his mother Katherine. This connection took a while for me to figure out. After Reginald, Sr.’s death in 1924, Katherine married General Oliver Loving Spiller in 1931. Spiller had previously been married to Katherine’s sister, Margaret, who died in 1930. The Spiller family also had a long military tradition. The “Loving” part of General Spiller’s name refers to his relationship to the Loving family for whom Loving County, Texas, was named. It is clear that Reginald, Jr.’s family served country and community well beyond the average family.
Reginald Jr.’s brothers also followed this family trend. Morrison Rutherford became a successful physician practicing OB/GYN for many years in Medford, Oregon. Alvord Rutherford attended West Point and rose to the rank of LtCol in the Army Air Corps. In 1942, while commanding a squadron of the 319th Bomb Group, his B-26 crashed, killing all aboard, as his squadron was leaving France for Morocco. He was buried in Normandy, France.
Reginald Jr., frequently referred to as Reggie or Reg by friends and family, attended Western High School in Washington, DC. His senior picture and description from The Westerner yearbook in 1929 can be found here and here. Admitted to the Naval Academy at Annapolis on June 27, 1930, Reggie excelled in gymnastics and expressed an interest in pursuing his Navy career in submarines, a goal that ended up being unfulfilled. A copy of his Lucky Bag entry can be found here.
After a very short deployment on the USS California (BB-44), according to a 1934 Navy Directory, Reggie was transferred to the USS Cincinnati (CL-6) where he stayed until 1939. Reggie married Coralinn Elizabeth Tuttle (Betty) in January of 1938. He earned his Naval Aviator qualification at Pensacola in 1940 and headed to the Pacific where he served on the USS Lexington (CV-2) in Scouting Squadron two. Reggie’s time on the “Lady Lex” ended with his detachment on December 1, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. He was to be deployed to an assignment in Asia, but the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor changed that. He joined Scouting Squadron Six on the USS Enterprise (CV-6) flying SBD Dauntless dive bombers.
As an aside, Reggie and Betty had a son, Rusty, between the time they were married and the Pearl Harbor raid. Betty and Rusty were living on Ford Island, as did many other Navy dependents, when the Japanese attacked. According to one account from a relative, Betty threw Rusty under the bed and crawled in after him. Neither received a scratch, which is quite amazing considering the famed Battleship Row, devastated by the Japanese bombs and torpedoes, abuts Ford Island.
Reggie remained on the Enterprise until just prior to her participation at the Battle of Midway. During his time on “The Big E,” Rutherford participated in some of the first carrier raids on Marshall Islands, 1 Feb 1942, Wake Island, 24 Feb 1942, and Marcus Island, 4 March 1942. This activity earned one the earliest Air Medals awarded to Naval Aviators in the war. One of Rutherford’s squadron mates was the well-known Norman “Dusty” Kleiss, who was the only pilot at the Battle of Midway to score three direct hits on Japanese ships, earning him a Navy Cross.
The reason Rutherford left the Enterprise was to form Scouting Team Ten and to help ready a new escort carrier for duty: The USS Altamaha. According to information from his son and niece, Rutherford held the following positions on the Altamaha: Senior Watch Officer, V-3 Division Officer, Officer-in-Charge Air Plot, General Supervisor of CIC, Photo Officer, Aerological Officer, Wardroom Mess Treasurer and Pilot of target-towing aircraft. The mid-watch verse above was written by then Lt. Rutherford aboard the Altamaha.
Rutherford left the Altamaha only a month and a half after penning the January 1, 1943, deck log. He went on to command his own ship, the USS Casco (AVP-12) from 19 July 1944 to 31 August 1945 [Coincidentally, I have three deck log verses from the Casco that will be the focus of an upcoming post]. During the early days of the Korean War, Rutherford served as Executive Officer aboard the USS Bataan (CVL-29). He is mentioned in a touching story entitled “A Christmas Eve Mass for the Living” that occurred on the Bataan in 1950. He also served as a Naval Attache’ to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. He finished his Navy career in 1960 at the rank of Captain as the Commandant of Naval Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Both Reginald and his wife Betty then became high school teachers.
During his naval career, Rutherford earned the following awards, medals, and qualifications. Air Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, American Defense Medal (1 Bronze Star), American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (3 Bronze Stars), WWII Occupation Medal (Asia), WWII Victory Medal, United Nations Korean Service Medal, Navy Expert Pistol Medal, and Navy Expert Rifleman Medal.
Captain Rutherford died on January 8, 1983, at the age of 69. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.