By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Courier article brings WWII vets together
Kismet? Serendipity? Fate? Whatever you want to call it, the stars aligned for two WWII Navy veterans who served on the same ship to meet for the first time on Jan. 7.
Last month, the Mission Times Courier ran a story about Allied Gardens resident Arthur Roemmich, a 100-year-old veteran who served on the USS Northampton — a ship that was saved from being bombed in Pearl Harbor because of a malfunction while refueling. [“Remembering Pearl Harbor” Volume 23, Issue 12 or bit.ly/2DyZ92L]
That story piqued the interest of San Carlos resident Felicia Hamwey, who emailed the Courier to share that her father Lloyd Smith was also serving onboard the USS Northampton when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor — and that he was in San Diego visiting from Arizona and would like to meet his former shipmate.
When the two veterans met up, they realized that they had even more in common. They both grew up in North Dakota, Roemmich in Mott and Smith around 100 miles away in Bellfield.
“They’re both the same kinds of towns, though,” Smith said, later adding that it was the connection to the state that drew him to the article.
“I thought it was pretty interesting,” he said. “I picked it up right away that he was from North Dakota; of course I know where Mott is — and his being 100 and I’m 95.”
Roemmich’s father was a farmer and Smith shared that his father worked for the railroad.
“He probably knew my uncle,” Roemmich shared. “My uncle was in charge of the roundhouse and repair in Dickenson.”
Roemmich joined the Navy a few years before Smith, and although they never met while serving aboard the ship, they discovered they had similar duties.
“Ain’t that something,” Roemmich said. “He came on the Northampton, got in the 4th Division, and that’s what I had been in before I got transferred to the supply.”
One major difference, however, is that Roemmich was eventually transferred off the Northampton, while Smith was aboard when the ship when it was sunk at the Battle of Tassafaronga on Nov. 30, 1942, during the Guadalcanal campaign.
“That was one episode I missed and I’m glad I missed it,” Roemmich said. “The night they were having that battle, I was sitting in a bar in Oakland having a beer and a sandwich.”
Smith wasn’t as lucky and he shared his account of how the ship went down.
“We got hit by two torpedoes and the whole aft part of the ship was on fire,” he said, adding that he was in the aft section above where the torpedoes struck in towers with the 5-inch guns. “The captain got on the loudspeaker and ordered all of the aft part of the ship to abandon ship and we stopped the ship and we all abandoned ship.”
After the crew in the aft section jumped ship, the Northampton pushed on.
“So we didn’t see the ship sink,” Smith said. “About an hour or two later she was gone. The forward part of the ship went off with the destroyers, but we were in the water. We were in the water from 12 o’clock at night to 8 o’clock the next morning.
“We were lucky to have lifeboats to hang on because I’m the poorest swimmer in the world and I’m in the Navy,” Smith joked.
The next morning, Smith and the other crewmembers got picked up by PT boats and he learned that the rest of the ship’s crew had unloaded onto destroyers before sinking.
Smith was then loaded onto a supply ship bound for Guam and then transferred to the USS Boston, where he served until the end of the war.
The two veterans also shared some stories of the good times on the Northampton before the war, like trips to Australia and New Guinea.
As Smith left, Roemmich gave him a hat from a USS Northampton reunion. Smith said he was “very fortunate” to meet Roemmich and the two said they would keep in touch.
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.