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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 33

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
From the Mississippi
to the Sea

Admiral Robert E. Coontz

published by
Dorrance & Company

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 35
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p441  Chapter XXXIV

Winter Maneuvers at San Pedro

Campaigning in Utah — Eighty Cents for an Oration — After Fifty years I Quit Playing Baseball — Our Armada Enters San Francisco Harbor — Entertainment — Joint Army Maneuvers at Hawaii — Fleet Maneuvers at Lahaina.

Toward the end of August, the vessels of the fleet steamed south, and the Seattle accompanied them as far as Cape Flattery, and then steamed away to Honolulu, to make the necessary preparations for the visit of the fleet during the coming April.

We reached there September 10, and met the Governor, the Mayor, and various committees. We made all preliminary arrangements, not only with the army for the approaching maneuvers, but also for the entertainment of the personnel of the various ships.

From Honolulu, the Seattle proceeded to Lahaina, on the Island of Maui. For many years there had been a question as to whether or not Lahaina was capable of handling a fleet successfully and safely. We had to make a thorough investigation. Mr. Freeland and Mr. Burns, both of whom lived there, aided us in finding an airplane landing field, and in many other ways.

As soon as our arrangements were perfected, we sailed to Hilo, on the Island of Hawaii, where some of us visited the celebrated volcano of Kilauea which I had never seen. Automobiles were provided and with several other officers I made the long anticipated trip. Special excursion parties were provided for our men.

The volcano was inactive during our stay, but we had a good view of it, and could easily imagine what might happen at any time. The weather was clear and we could see the surrounding mountains. At the hotel we were  p442 shown a very interesting register of guests which had been maintained for more than fifty years, and contained the autographs of many distinguished persons, from all parts of the world, who had visited the wonderful volcano. Among them was that of Mark Twain, with a humorous comment. The nights were so cool at the Volcano House that hot water bags were placed in our beds.

Our host told us it was customary to rise early and walk down the trail to the edge of the crater before breakfast. Admiral Cole, Captain Rowcliff and I expressed a willingness to do so. The proprietor of the hotel and a guide accompanied us. It was easy enough going down the trail, but we had no sooner reached the bottom than one of local members of our party proposed that we return. We agreed and turning about immediately proceeded on the climb. Admiral Cole, who had been the last man down, became the leader on the return. He never stopped for a moment until he had reached the top of the long, hard ascent which brought us to the front of the hotel. I was fourth in the line, and it was with difficulty that I kept pace with the procession. Subsequently, the guide told us that an attempt had been made to play a joke on us, and that they had not expected such an exhibition of endurance as Admiral Cole gave them. Cole always kept himself in good physical condition and Rowcliff and I felt compelled to keep up with him on the climb. I confess now that I was nearly exhausted, but would not admit the fact then.

A dance was given in our honor, at Hilo, on the night of our departure. I acquiesced in it, with the understanding that we would leave the hall at ten o'clock, as the ship was to sail at eleven. Evidently, the people were not accustomed to navy discipline, and did not understand that we meant exactly what we said. Many had not arrived at the ball room at ten o'clock, but we rounded up our officers at that hour, and sailed away at eleven, for San Francisco.

 p443  We reached port on September 30, in time to keep our engagement with the local committee of San Francisco which was planning for the visit of the fleet. From there we went to San Pedro to prepare for the winter maneuvers.

The Department, at the request of the Navy League, assigned me to deliver an address, in October, at Salt Lake City, and another at Ogden, Utah. The Seattle was then in the harbor of San Pedro. Captain Rowcliff was sent to Utah, as my advance agent and representative. When I read the newspaper encomiums of myself, I recalled "Bill" Arp's story of "Gaping Guyascutis," — "He is coming!" "He is here!" "He is gone!"​a Rowcliff, after making arrangements for me at Salt Lake City, proceeded to Montana for Navy Day, and returned to San Pedro by destroyer sailing from Bremerton.

Utah was a black spot on the navy map. On the train from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, I wrote out a long speech. Mr. Daniels was campaigning in the state at the time, and was stopping at the same hotel where I was registered.

My first day's program was hectic. I lunched with the naval officers stationed in the city, dined with the governor, spoke at a Methodist church, and then talked over the radio to a million listeners. My daughter joined me at Salt Lake City.

The next morning I started on a real day's work. The events of the day included a special organ recital at the Tabernacle for my daughter and me; separate addresses to six schools; a thirty‑mile drive to Ogden to attend a luncheon; an address before the Ogden Chamber of Commerce; a visit to Weber Canyon; return to Salt Lake City; more school speeches, dinner dance at the Country Club, and an address to Mormon women.

At the luncheon in Ogden we met many former Missourians, especially from St. Joe. They were particularly interested in discussing old home affairs. I gave the  p444 manuscript of the speech I had prepared to the newspaper men and made an entirely different address.

On my last morning in Salt Lake City I received a delegation of the 32nd degree Masons of Utah at eleven, and a committee of the Mormon Church at eleven-fifteen. The two parties just missed each other.

The largest and final event of my visit to Salt Lake City was held under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce, in the Hotel Utah. I spoke frankly and freely there, for I realized that we needed more friends in the state.

We were very favorably impressed with the city, its beauty, its order, its cleanliness, and its wide streets. Salt Lake City is a credit to Brigham Young and its other founders.

Soon after returning to San Pedro my staff was given a trip to Arrowhead Lake, a famous mountain resort, north of San Bernardino. The journey was made in special cars, and was most enjoyable. It was arranged through the courtesy of Mr. Leon Atwood, a brother-in‑law of Captain Hooper, our fleet communication officer. The captain was born in San Bernardino, in 1884, and we had a "Hooper" day there. The ceremonies were held in the school house where he was a student in his boyhood.

The Seattle made her headquarters at San Diego during most of our stay in the south. While we were there I agreed to deliver an address at the ceremonies attending the dedication of the Young Men's Christian Association building. I delayed preparing my remarks until the morning of the appointed day. Then various interruptions interfered, and at luncheon time the speech was unwritten. I offered the officers a bonus of two dollars for the best address handed in to me within one hour, stipulating that it must elaborate on "Peter the Hermit" and "Montezuma the Merciless."

Within the designated time Griswold and Shelley appeared with speeches. I quickly combined their effusions  p445 with my own, and estimated that upon the basis of the agreed compensation, they were entitled to eighty cents. I carried the manuscript to San Diego and found eight thousand people outside the Y. M. C. A. building! I decided that for the first time, in making a public speech, I must read my remarks. I did so, and to my amazement was heartily congratulated by those on the grandstand. The address was printed in full in the local papers.

The Seattle was ordered to the Puget Sound yard, before November, to complete her repairs. En route to San Francisco we played deck tennis. I enjoyed that exercise, as I had been obliged to abandon baseball and tennis on shore. In one of these games at sea I collided with Commander John F. Shafroth, and the result was disastrous to me. My right hand was broken in four places. We had no X‑ray machine on board and it was several days before we knew how bad the injury was.

We were due in Bremerton on Thanksgiving day, but were delayed and had our dinner aboard ship. We arrived home in the evening, however, and those of us who were fortunate enough to have families in Bremerton, ate a second Thanksgiving feast.

While at the yard we had a big picnic at Agate Pass. We played baseball on the beach, while the clam chowder and other edibles were prepared by the ladies. It was my last appearance on the baseball field. I played right field and still had my batting eye. I was allowed to finish the game, only on condition that it would be my final appearance in the sport. I had played baseball for fifty years. My first game was in Hannibal, Missouri, in 1874. I played my last game, without an error, made three safe hits, and considered that I ended my career on the diamond with credit.

While I had my broken right hand in a splint, and was unable either to shave or dress myself unaided, and could not eat with comfort, my wife fell down the cellar steps and broke her right foot and left ear. My daughter added to the family casualties by falling downstairs, also.  p446 When the third accident happened, we felt certain that our mishaps were over, and they were.

We went to San Francisco in February, 1925, and the old Seattle passed through one of the most violent storms I have ever witnessed. The Canadian steamer Aorangib1 was in the same storm and sustained heavy damage. Our starboard engine was disabled and we had to limp into port with one engine operating. Fortunately, our ship's company could repair the damage, and by the time we reached San Diego, we were ready to take our place in the fleet.

The maneuvers of 1925 were among the greatest we ever held. The first event was a search problem, six hundred miles southwest of San Diego. The scouting fleet was on its way south from San Pedro. In some respects it was a most interesting problem, as it showed that fleets might pass each other unawares. At the conclusion of the maneuvers the scouting fleet joined the battle fleet, and all the ships proceeded to San Diego. The critique of these operations was held at San Diego, and all events were thoroughly discussed by representatives of both organizations.

After final assignments had been made of the vessels that were to participate in the cruise to Honolulu, Australia and New Zealand, the Seattle and part of the scouting fleet sailed for San Francisco. They passed outside of San Pedro and the ships of the battle fleet joined us and took their places in the formation. We had favorable weather, and on the morning of April 5, both sides of the Golden Gate were thronged with people watching the magnificent sight of the great Armada entering the harbor and anchoring off the city.

During the eight days that we remained there, we made final preparations for the fleet cruise, assigning Congressman and newspaper men who were to accompany us, to the various ships, and attempting to live through the lavish entertainment that the people of San Francisco provided  p447 for us. The day we spent at the villa of former Senator James D. Phelan stands out in my memory. The Senator was an admirable host.

Mayor Rolfe demonstrated what the city can do when it attempts entertainment. At the banquet tendered us by the Chamber of Commerce, shortly before we sailed, Mrs. Kahn, on behalf of that body, presented me with a painting of the California passing Fort Point, and leading the fleet into the harbor.

The Seattle sailed from San Francisco, for Honolulu, April 14, her departure having been delayed for one day, in order that the Australian Commissioner might entertain us before we started on our long voyage to his country.

Six days later we moored to the wharf in Honolulu, and prepared for the campaign. Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John L. Hines had been chosen as the Army General Joint Umpire, and I had been named as the representative of the Navy. He had some very efficient officials to aid him, including General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Heintzelmanº and Colonel Krueger. Our relations were most pleasant in all respects. They reported aboard the Seattle upon our arrival and remained there until the great battle of the Hawaiian Islands was over. That campaign is now a matter of history. It lasted five days. The umpires took one hour off each day for a swim at Waikiki Beach.

The critique held in Honolulu was the best I have ever attended. As soon as it was concluded the entire fleet sailed in formation for Lahaina Roads. In all, there were off the Island of Maui, 145 vessels of all classes, and aboard them were 45,000 men. We made our base off Lahaina, and using that as a center, held maneuvers for a month. The ships put out to sea every Monday morning and returned on Friday, and the submarines and airplanes were given plenty to keep them busy.

Many dangers had to be encountered, particularly where smoke screens were used by destroyers. For the first time in our history the United States fleet, made up,  p448 as it was, of a certain proportion of all fleet components, was actually deployed.

For week‑end entertainment, banquets, dances and swimming parties were arranged, and I wish to pay my tribute to Miss Sara Freeland who so carefully carried out every detail of the program which we had prepared with her father, before his death. The Burns family and the Fleming family each did their part, and our people agreed that Mr. Fleming's swimming pool was the second best in the world.

At the end of the month we maneuvered back to Honolulu, where we placed most of the small craft inside Pearl Harbor, leaving only the battle­ships and light cruisers anchored outside in the rougher waters off Honolulu. The city had an opportunity to demonstrate how it could handle a fleet of this size, as well as the great number of men attached to it. Honolulu was not only equal to the task, but performed it with a high degree of satisfaction.

Toward the end of our stay several members of Congress and their families visited Honolulu and the fleet. Senator Hale, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, was among them. I invited him to Lahaina to see the base. In company with Governor Farrington, of Hawaii, we took passage at eight o'clock in the morning on the Marblehead and landed at Lahaina before noon. Several of the senator's fellow-statesmen were there, and after luncheon we rode up the mountain side where we could view the anchorage, and see the surrounding islands. We landed the Senator back in Honolulu in time to enable him to take his dip in the ocean before dinner.

While the Seattle was docked in Honolulu I had a visit from a company of Boy Scouts. After some preliminaries, the spokesman inquired if he might submit eleven questions to me, on behalf of the boys. I assented, and his first query was, "In your early life, Admiral, what was your great ambition?"

"To be a clerk in a candy store," I replied.

 p449  The answer seemed to be so unexpected that it confused the young man, and the other questions appeared unimportant.

I have always had a deep interest in, and sympathy for, the lepers at Molokai. Soon after my arrival at Honolulu I had a letter from one of them asking if one of our ships could be sent to steam close by the shore of their colony, so that they might see it. In compliance with the request, I directed Rear Admiral Magruder to take the four vessels of the cruiser division and proceed close to shore and fire a salute as they passed. We notified the lepers as to the time, and as the day was clear, they had an excellent opportunity of seeing the ships. When the national salute was fired, the poor unfortunates were overcome with emotion. A few days later I had one of the most pathetic letters I have ever read, from one of their number. He told how much they appreciated the courtesy, and what a break it was in the monotony of their terrible and lonely existence. The missive brought tears into my eyes and the eyes of my staff when we read it.

On the day we left Honolulu, a Chinese child was born. His parents, wishing to show their respect for the Commander-in‑Chief of the fleet, named their son after me.

Good roads have made Honolulu most desirable as a health and pleasure resort. One can easily and quickly go up to the Pali, or to Diamond Head, or around the Island of Oahu, to Haleiwa, and return by Schofield Barracks. The changed conditions seemed remarkable to an old timer like me, who first went to the Islands in the 'nineties.

All of the scouting fleet, except the light cruisers and some of the smaller ships that were not to make the great cruise to Australia and New Zealand, started for their home ports on June 7th.

There were necessarily changes in the personnel of my staff. I had to agree to permit Captain Gannon to go to the Naval Academy, as commandant of midshipmen, under Rear Admiral Nulton. Rowcliff also went to the  p450 Academy as head of the department of engineering and aeronautics. Commander Shafroth went to the War College, as his term of sea duty was long since up. In exchange, I obtained the services of Leigh, who had just been chosen to be a rear admiral, and of Lieutenant Commander Hill, who came as tactical officer. Leigh was later to go on the staff of Admiral Hughes.

On June 10, my wife and daughter, and my daughter's friend, Miss Frances Green, of Seattle, who had been in Honolulu during the stay of the fleet, sailed for Australia and New Zealand, by way of Fiji, on the Canadian steamer Aorangi.​b2

There were banquets and dinners every night up to the time of our departure. One night I made the faux pas of saying that I had eaten chicken and peas at fifteen preceding dinners. The papers commented on my remark, which was tactless, but after that we had beefsteak and other meats besides chicken on the menus.

The Chinese and Japanese joined in the festivities in our honor. To the last, the Japanese Consul General expressed the wish that the fleet visit Japanese ports. I told him I hoped that when the fleet should make its East Indies cruise, in 1928, that it would return home by way of Japan. The Consul was the last man to leave the ship on the morning of July 1st, when we got under way for Samoa.

We have since learned that this cruise was made in direct opposition to the wishes of pacifists in the United States.

Thayer's Notes:

a The guyascutis was a mythical animal about which tall tales were told in the Far West in the nineteenth century; and which was exhibited to the gullible at carnivals and such. Here for example — from an author that Adm. Coontz has told us he read as a boy — The Rifle Rangers; or, Adventures of an Officer in Southern Mexico by Captain Mayne Reid (William Shoberl, Publisher: London, 1850) is how one enterprising fellow paid for supper and a hotel room for himself and his pal, the narrator:

"Agreeably to his instructions, I ate supper — and heartily too, for we had not tasted victuals since morning. I was then shown to my room, where I waited patiently for about two hours. I was still ignorant how  p53 the supper was to be paid for, when the door opened, and Cobb entered. A couple of 'darkies' followed at his heels, carrying the box that I had seen him purchase, upon the lid of which was painted in large bold letters:

" 'The Wonderful Guyas-cutis!'

Underneath was an oblong hole, or slit, newly chiselled in the wood!

"Cobb held in his hand a broad sheet of paper. This, as soon as the darkies had gone out of the room, he spread upon the table, and, pointing to it, triumphantly exclaimed:

" 'Then, now, Harry, that's it!'

" 'What the devil is it? asked I.

" 'Read for yourself, old fellow!' cried he.

"I commenced reading:

" 'The Wonderful Guyas-cutis!'

" 'caught in the wilds of Oregon!

" 'near the boundary of

" '50° 40′!!

This was in large capitals. Then followed the description in small letters:

" 'This remarkable animal, hitherto unknown to the naturalists, possesses all the intelligence of the human, combined with the ferocity of the tiger, and the agility of the ourang-outang! He is of a bright sky‑blue colour, with eleven stripes upon his body, and one more round his nose, which makes the even dozen; and ne'er a one of them alike!!

" 'In his rage, he has been known to carry Indians up to the tops of the highest trees, and there leave them to perish with hunger, thirst, and cold; which accounts satisfactorily for the uncivilized nature of the red man!!

" 'The highly-intelligent citizens of Columbia are respectfully informed that this wonderful quadruped has arrived among them, and will be exhibited this evening, Tuesday, at the Minerva Rooms, at the hour of eight o'clock. Admittance, 25 cents. !'

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b1 b2 The Māori name (for the New Zealand mountain that Europeans call Mount Cook) gives it away. It was not a Canadian but a New Zealand ship, both at the time of the events related and at the time Adm. Coontz's book was published, although it would soon afterwards be transferred to a joint Canadian-Kiwi company.

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