A final farewell to the `Charles Carroll'

WAY BACK WHEN

September 28, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Memories and the bonds of friendship forged during wartime, when they were young, have brought the old mariners together for one last reunion.

Members of the USS Charles Carroll APA-28 Association, have come for their final reunion this weekend at the Holiday Inn in Timonium. They have dwindled from a crew of 600 to 30 active members, as death, infirmity and old age have conspired to reduce their numbers.

They will board buses to tour the Naval Academy and visit the USS John Brown in Canton, Fort McHenry and historic sites in Washington. They will hold a banquet Sunday evening and say their final farewells at a breakfast Monday morning.

"This is the last one, as the men are getting too old, and it's hard for them to get around anymore," said Jean S. Remmel of Chestertown, who was a first-class electrician's mate aboard the Charles Carroll. "So, it was decided to end in Baltimore, where it had all begun."

The USS Charles Carroll APA-28 was the second vessel named for Carroll (1737-1832), the Maryland patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence, when it went humming down the ways into the Patapsco River at the Sparrows Point plant of Bethlehem Shipbuilding Co. on March 24, 1942.

The first Charles Carroll, the second of the new Liberty ship fleet, slid down the ways of the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard on Oct. 25, 1941.

The second Charles Carroll was one of six passenger ships being built for the Mississippi Steamship Lines for runs between the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast of South America.

Three of the ships were completed before World War II broke out - the Delargentino, Belbrasil and Delorleans - and were requisitioned by the Navy and converted into attack transports.

It was decided that the last three vessels - including the Deluruguay, which became the Charles Carroll - would be built at Sparrows Point to Navy specifications.

Remmel, who was born and reared on Loyola Southway in Northwest Baltimore, was a 1939 graduate of City College. He began his college studies at the Johns Hopkins University and graduated from the Bliss School of Electrical Engineering.

He began his career as assistant wire chief for the Army Signal Corps at Aberdeen Proving Ground before enlisting in the Navy in 1942. After training, Remmel was one of the first crew members to join the new ship before it left the Sparrows Point yard for commissioning at Norfolk.

"I spent my days learning the electrical workings of the ship," said Remmel, founder of Baltimore Tape Products Inc., and now retired.

After extensive training in amphibious warfare, the Charles Carroll crossed the North Atlantic in a convoy of 40 ships with destroyer escorts for its first engagement. Standing off the enemy-held beaches of French Morocco, the ship's crew was able to successfully land troops and supplies on the shoreline near Casablanca.

Because of a traffic jam getting the convoy safely into the harbor at Casablanca, the Charles Carroll rode at anchor in the ocean.

"A foolish mistake was now made," said Remmel.

Off duty and with nothing to do, Remmel climbed into the gunner's seat of one of the ship's cannons. It was near sunset and he was scanning the shoreline through its telescope when about 200 yards astern, he noticed a rather large pile of garbage floating on the surface, with a periscope raised in the middle of the debris.

"The U-boat had to see me with the 5-inch gun trained in his direction, and fired his torpedo. The destroyers picked up the torpedo sound and charged in with depth bombs," Remmel wrote in an unpublished memoir.

"As I raced up the starboard rail to my battle station forward, I looked over the side in the water and about 20 feet off and 6 feet down, I saw a torpedo streaking parallel to our hull."

Shipboard life was never dull, especially during wartime. On one voyage to Panama, the ship's stern light had to be replaced.

"We were running in heavy seas, and to make repairs meant climbing over our stern just above the propeller wash. I took that job myself. Every time the ship settled out of a roll, my feet got wet, but I got the job done," he said.

Remmel was in charge of the winch controls one day when heavy steel sectional hatch covers, which weighed about 2 tons, were being removed. One of the slings slipped, causing a cover to fall through the hatch, splitting open cases of land mines and artillery shells.

"There was no place to hide. But there was no explosion," wrote Remmel. "Apparently, this highly explosive stuff had not been fused. Otherwise, that would have been the end of the Charles Carroll and her crew."

While heading for the Pacific and transit through the Panama Canal, the Charles Carroll supposedly hit a mine off the approaches to the canal.

Remmel, who was taking a shower at the time, thinks it was a torpedo.

"Navy records said it was a mine, but it was a torpedo. It threw me up into the overhead, the floor crumbled and all the mirrors broke.

"We had people trapped below and I came out spitting blood. Steam lines were ruptured and the torpedo completely destroyed our rudder. The ship's two props were damaged and one man was blown over the side. However, we didn't lose the ship," he said.

The Charles Carroll was towed to shore and remained in dry dock for two months while repairs were completed

Remmel, who developed adhesions on his lungs, later was diagnosed with tuberculosis and received a medical discharge from the Navy in 1943.

The Charles Carroll, a veteran of five major assaults in the Atlantic and Pacific, earned six battle stars for wartime service.

The vessel was transferred to the Maritime Commission in 1958, and scrapped at General Metals Inc. in Tacoma, Wash., in 1978.

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