Home » Family History » Military Appreciation: Great-Uncle Thomas Francis Atwell II

Military Appreciation: Great-Uncle Thomas Francis Atwell II

My paternal grandmother’s brother, Thomas Francis Atwell II, was only fifteen years old and living in Lynn, MA when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Like many Americans, he must have been shocked and outraged at this occurrence. Having a father in the Navy in nearby Boston Harbor, I am sure he heard of the goings-on in the shipyard as the country prepared for war. From what I’ve read, one could enlist in the Navy at age sixteen if he had his parent’s consent. Young Thomas must have received their consent the following year, for on September 21, 1942 he enlisted in the Navy in Boston.

USS Cony. Courtesy U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

USS Cony. Courtesy U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Training must have been quick and efficient. Thomas was assigned to the USS Cony, a Fletcher-class destroyer, upon its commissioning on October 30, 1942 in Boston. He was a Seaman, First Class, among many young sailors under the command of Lieutenant Commander Harry D. Johnson. I have to wonder what my great-grandfather must have thought, seeing his son following in his footsteps.

The USS Cony left the East Coast and headed for the Pacific. It took part in troop escort and patrolling duties and saw plenty of action, including the March 6, 1943 bombardment of Vila-Stanmore on Kolombangara Island and support for the landings on Vella Lavella that August. It continued with transport and battle support, particularly on October 27 during the Battle of Treasury Islands. The Cony shot down twelve enemy planes, but not without receiving two hits on her main deck, killing eight and injuring ten. The ship had to be hauled for emergency repairs and underwent an overhaul back in the states.

USS Wren. Courtesy U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

USS Wren. Courtesy U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Thomas was listed on the Cony’s muster rolls until January 15, 1944 at the latest. He even may have been still on the Cony after its relaunch in late March 1944, patrolling for Japanese barges and submarines. In any case, on May 20, 1944, he was aboard another destroyer for its commissioning in Seattle, WA: the USS Wren, commanded by Commander Edwin A. McDonald. The ship was involved in training exercises in San Diego, and then it was off to the northern Pacific for patrolling and providing escort work. As the Allies chipped away at the Japanese territory in the Pacific, they were inching toward Japan itself. The Wren was involved in several bombardments in the Kuril Islands, just south of the Soviet Union’s Eastern shore, between November 1944 and March 1945. By March 31, Thomas reached the rank of 3rd class Petty Officer as a Ship’s Serviceman (Laundryman). (Ship’s servicemen manage and operate these kinds of service activities aboard the ship.)

The Wren made its way to the southern Pacific, moving from Hawaii, to the Caroline Islands. Finally, in mid-May 1945 the Wren joined the action in the battle of Okinawa, performing submarine patrols and antiaircraft watch. Although under attack, the Wren came out the victor against at least four Japanese attacks. (Side note: although the Wren is not mentioned, I highly recommend Jeff Shaara’s historical novel, The Final Storm, about the battle of Okinawa.) After success in this battle, the Wren headed toward the Philippines and joined other ships in supporting aerial attacks on Japan. The end was near.

Finally, the Allies entered into Japanese waters. The Wren was among those who entered Tokyo Bay on August 26, just twenty days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Allies began their occupation, and on September 2, Japan formally surrendered in a ceremony on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay; the Wren was present for this historic occasion, but left later that day. It would later visit Iwo Jima and Eniewtok.

USS Tucson. Courtesy U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

USS Tucson. Courtesy U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Although the war was over, Thomas’ time in the Navy was not. By September 14, 1945, he rose to the rank of 2nd Class Petty Officer (still a Ship’s Serviceman) and was transferred to the USS Tucson, an Atlantic-class light cruiser. At the time, the Tucson was in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington State in the midst of a three-month overhaul. I’m not sure what Thomas did there (clean uniforms? train his replacement?), or how long he was there exactly. The last muster roll he was on was dated November 1, but showed some sort of activity in San Francisco on October 5. (By this time, the rolls were typed up with all sorts of codes that I haven’t been able to decipher yet.)

The closest thing to a personal story I have on Thomas’ time in the Navy is being told that he did suffer an injury during the war, which involved shrapnel in his back and contributed to him being in a wheelchair much later in life. Perhaps he incurred this injury on the Cony during the Battle of the Treasury Islands.

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