Articles & Stories

 

Charles Montgomery Lost His Life

Aboard The USS Quincy In 1942

By John W. Espey - 2010

The Battle of Savo Island (August 9-10, 1942) was neither a decisive victory nor a debilitating defeat, but the cost was heavy in men and machinery. The U. S. Navy lost three heavy cruisers, the USS Astoria, the USS Vincennes, and the USS Quincy. The Australian ship HMAS Canberra was also sunk. The actual carnage of battle only lasted a few minutes over an hour.
Samuel Eliot Morison, in his book The Two-Ocean War, described the Savo Island Battle in some detail, which included mistakes that were made and lessons learned. The loss of men was the most the U. S. Navy had ever suffered in a single battle: 1,270 officers and men killed, and 709 wounded.
The story I want to tell, however, is not the story of the Battle of Savo Island or the story of the USS Quincy. Both subjects have been covered better elsewhere. I do want to tell the story of Charles Montgomery, but to tell Charles's story, I must include some of the history of the second USS Quincy (CA-39).
Three U. S. Navy ships have been named after the town of Quincy, Massachusetts. The first was a German cargo ship seized in 1917, renamed Quincy and used by the U. S. Navy until 1922, when it was sold. The second Quincy (CA-39) was a heavy cruiser built by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company in Quincy, Massachusetts, and commissioned at Boston on June 9, 1936. The third Quincy (CA-71) was also a heavy cruiser, named to commemorate her predecessor and commissioned in 1943. She served with distinction through the rest of WWII and the Korean War and was decommissioned in 1954.
Charles Montgomery was from a Lebanon Junction, Bullitt County, Kentucky, family and one of 13 children. Six members of the family, including Charles, served on active duty during WWII. There was also a daughter who became a nurse cadet, but was never called to active duty.
Charles enlisted before Pearl Harbor, went through boot camp, attended a Navy school, and was assigned to the USS Quincy (CA-39) as a first-class metal smith. Two of Charles's sisters were in the WAVES, and one of them introduced him to her friend, Rose, who was also in the Navy. Charles and Rose dated, and when orders came down that the Quincy was to leave for the Far East, they decided to get married. On the day before the ship got underway, they became man and wife.
Early in July 1942, along with other ships assembled for the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Quincy departed the U. S. The ship provided close fire support for the Marine landing, and, after the landing, patrolled the channel between Florida Island and Savo Island. While on patrol during the early hours of August 9, 1942, the Quincy was surprised by a Japanese naval force. She sustained many hits, and all of her guns were knocked out of action. The Quincy sank, taking 370 men to their graves, including the captain. Another 167 of the crewmen were wounded. She was the first ship to sink in the area that was later to be known as "Iron Bottom Sound."
The Navy provided little information to the Montgomery family concerning Charles's death, except notification that he was missing in action, and later that he had been killed in action. In time a shipmate did inform them that Charles had finished his watch and had gone below to his quarters before the Japanese attacked. When the ship flooded, the men below were drowned with no hope of escaping.
After the war, Charles's wife, Rose, came to Kentucky to meet and visit with the Montgomery family. Before he left the U. S., Charles had assigned his government insurance to Rose, and she had collected the $10,000 after his death. While she was in Kentucky, she gave the money from the insurance to Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery.
Mrs. Montgomery never talked about the loss of her son. All she ever said was, "He left home and never came back." I suppose she put it in that way because she was unable to accept the fact that her son was dead. Perhaps for her, the statement that "He left home and never came back" left open the doorway of hope, and she could think of him as still alive somewhere on earth instead of entombed on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
An added note comes from Ms. Martha Camp Montgomery, who provided information related to this story: None of the 13 children of the Montgomery family are alive today, and only two of the in-laws are living.

Ret. Lt. John W. Espey, 1355 N. Reed Hooker Road, Eads, TN 38028, shares this article with our readers.



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