ORVAL PERSHING BRIGGS
The pall that hung over Red Oak, Iowa during World War II was an emotional experience this author will never forget. There was a constant tension in the air as its citizens wondered and worried about the young men and woman who were called to serve their country. The youngest son of Romania and Sarah, who went down to the sea in ships, did not return.
There are others who knew Orval better than I; but I have to start with a unique marriage ceremony. Orval was at a YMCA in Bremerton, Washington a seaman in the U.S.Navy. Gladys June Vannausdle was in Red Oak at the office of L. L. Osborn, with Rev. Robert Edgar of the Congregational Church. At 3:50 p.m. Saturday 1 March, 1941, Orval and June were united in marriage via telephone. The marriage license was issued on the 13th of February, 1941.
Orval's sister Lola received and saved the letters from Orval. The first was dated 19 January, 1942 postrnarked New York, and he is on board the U.S. S. Atlanta. He mentions visiting June. The second is 3 March, 1942 and in part asks....
"Have you heard any thing from Ivan or Harlan yet? Is Helen and Mae still in Trenton?"
The third one is dated 7 May, 1942 postmarked San Francisco. He speaks of the pictures taken when he visited June and was not impressed with them... thought he looked terrible.
"I got some of those clippings out of the paper about Ivan, Kenneth and the gang." The last letter from Orval is dated 16 June, 1942...
"A guy doesn't get much time to write letters these days Has anyone heard from Harlan or Ivan lately?" He asks about Helen, and Kenneth Kindberg, and his brother Glen being ill. The letter ends, "Well you know how it is a guy doesn't have much that he can write about so guess I just might as well close. Sorry that I didn't write sooner, will try to do better next time." As ever, Orval Briggs, 1st Division. U.S.S. Atlanta.
The following narrations are taken from printed references:
The ship U.S. S. Atlanta was launched 6 September 1941 at Kearny, N.J. After a hurried shakedown and training cruise she joined the Pacific Fleet. She helped guard a convoy to New Caledonia and then joined Task Force 16 in time to participate in the Battle of Midway (4-6 June, 1942) as part of the anti-aircraft screen for the carrier HORNET. She remained a part of TF 16 through the Guadalcanal landings (7-9 August 1942) and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (24-25 August, 1942).
An important aspect of the Guadalcanal operation was the naval actions, which included the Battle of Savo Island... .etc.. that determined the outcome of the campaign, the naval battle of Guadalcanal, fought November 12-15, 1942. It began on the afternoon of November 12 with a Japanese bomber attack on American transports in Lunga Roads. The attack was easily beaten off by the Americans, with numbers of the Bettys being downed by antiaircraft fire. That night, however, the air attack was followed by the arrival of a strong Japanese surface
force--a Tokyo Express, including two battleships, a light cruiser and destroyers. This was actually a bombardment group sent to dispose of the U.S. marine force at Henderson Field. It encountered the transport escort groups. A wild melee resulted in the small hours of the 13th.The Japanese battleship HIEI was severely crippled and two destroyers were sunk; on the American side, two cruisers, the ATLANTA and the JUNEAU and four destroyers.
Against great odds the ATLANTA was severely damaged by at least one torpedo and 49 Japanese shells. Although she survived the night, the dawn bound her too badly injured to be saved and she was scuttled off Lunga Point, and became a part of Iron Bottom Bay. She had lost 172 killed and 79 wounded.
Lola wrote letters trying to fmd more information on this event, two are partially given here:
Dear Mrs. Stoddard, I suppose you are wondering why I am writing you. Well Harold Kinzer gave me your
address and said he was going to write you and asked me if I would also.
You see Mrs. Stoddard I lenew your brother Orville (Orval) Pershing very well, in fact, I used to be on the U.S.S.California with him and we were transferred to the Atlanta together, and were in the same division, and were in the same turret. Orville (Orval) was the trainer of my gun. He was the first to get killed at our station.
He was killed while trying to train the guns on an enemy ship. Orval died instantly and did not have to suffer. Out of twelve men in turret #1, we lost four men. It was a night that not many people will ever forget. The entire crew of the ship was hurt and hated to see it go. One thing you can rest assure before Orville went, he got to see three ships go down that our guns got. He always did his best and for me I always thought he was the best trainer we had on the ship. We were most always first to get our guns on the target to shoot at.
Well I must close hoping I haventt hurt you too much. I thought it best that you should Imow the truth.
March 1, 1943
Mrs. Stoddard, I really don't know how to start this letter out and even then I am at a loss for words. You see
this is my first experience of writing a letter that will surely bring many memories back and a lot of tears. You were so nice and sincere in your letter that I just felt it would be a crime if I didn't answer it.
I wish to God that I could tell you, that the boy you are asking about was alive somewhere, but if I told you that, I would be telling a lie and just building up more hope for you, which would turn out to be false hopes.
So I am forced to say he is dead. If you remember a friend he had by the name of Huddleson, whom I believe you met once in Omaha. He was in the same turret that the man was, so he should really know. Just before I left Boston, he promised he would drop you a line also, so just in case he doesn't I thought I should.
Sorrow such as you have had to suffer in your family, though no fault of ours, I lenow is hard to bear. Sometimes it seems almost impossible to do so.
The morning of Nov.14, after it had got daylight and the ones who were still able to get around, had a horrible experience to go through.
We didn't have just one death, we had numbers of them, we could see many of our dear Buddies, whom just a few hours ago had been laughing and joking with us. Now as they laid there, we lenew they would never laugh and joke anymore
I remain Your Friend.
Harold F. Kinzer
On July 21, 1943 from the Navy Department of the BURFAU OF NAVAL PERSONNEL, Admiral Jacobs sent a letter to June Briggs:
My dear Mrs. Briggs:
The Chief of Naval Personnel takes pleasure in fonvarding herewith a Presidential Unit
Citation for your late husband, Orval Pershing Briggs, Seaman first class, United States
Navy, awarded by the Secretary of the Navy to the officers and men attached to the U.S. S.
ATLANTA on November 12-13, 1942.
The attached citation reads:
"For outstanding performance during action against enemy Japanese forces off Guadalcanal Island, November 12-13, 1942. Struck by one torpedo and no less than 49 shells, the ATLANTA, after sinking an enemy destroyer and repeatedly hitting a cruiser which later went down, gallantly remained in battle under auxiliary power with one-third of her crew killed or missing, her engine room flooded and her topside a shambles. Eventually succumbing to her wounds after the enemy had fled in defeat, she left behind her a heroic example of invincible fighting spirit."
Signed: Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy.
On February 25, 1944 a letter to June notified her that the U.S. Navy had awarded Orval the Purple Heart medal and a certificate. It reads:
"To all who shall see these presents, greeting: This is to certif~ that the President of the United States of America pursuant to authority vested in him by congress has awarded the PURPLE HEART established by General George Washington at Newburgh, New York, August 7, 1782 to Orval Pershing Briggs, Seaman First Class, United States Navy for military merit and for wounds received in action resulting in his death November 13, 1942.