Pt. 2 Greil Marcus In The Threepenny Review

March 16, 2008

Greil Marcus In The Threepenny Review

Part II

Greil Marcus At Sea


     When in doubt consult the internet.  It would seem that the USS Hull along with the Monaghan and Spence is a celebrated episode in Naval history.

     A history of the movements of the Hull during the war is to be found on Wikipedia.  There have been several Hulls.  The one is question is DD 350.  Fox News appears to replicate whatever Mr. Marcus saw on TV.  That site may be found at HTTP://

     These sites provide us with dates to deal with.  The Hull went down on December 18, 1944.  Therefore Mr. Marcus was born on June 19, 1945 or possibly July 19.

     The Hull was active during the entire war having a very distinguished record.  On August 25, 1944 it entered Puget Sound for repairs.  Although the biography says Seattle, I suppose that means the Bremeton Naval Yards on the West side of the Sound opposite Seattle.

     Depending on whether Greil Gerstley had been with the Hull several years or only recently he obtained a much needed leave heading for the flesh pots of San Francisco.  The leave was probably a thirty day leave so he had to back in Seattle sometime in October.  He probably left the ship at the beginning of September or shortly after so he may have been in San Francisco about September 10th.  If he met and married Mr. Marcus’ mother in September that was indeed a whirlwind romance.  I don’t mean to be snide but after several years at sea Gerstley was ready for anything.  And then he may have thought it’s now or never, unlike MacArthur I may not return.

     The Hull put out to sea again on October 23, 1944 so that the newly weds had probably less than a month together so truly Mr. Marcus’ mother had little to tell him other than that his dad was a nice guy.

     And then on December 18th the Hull caught a wave and wiped out.

     Now, was any one person responsible as Mr. Marcus thinks?  I think not.  Unless Mr. Marcus has a verifiable alternate version the official version is that the whole fleet under the command of Admiral Halsey was taken by surprise by the typhoon.  Halsey didn’t maliciously order the three DDs into the typhoon to see what they were made of.  I feel certain there was no talk of a mutiny involving Gerstley or anyone else.  The storm hit, the ship sank within a day.  No possiblity for mutiny talk.  No reason for it.  Mr. Marcus’ imagination is overheated by the Caine Mutiny nonsense aboard, get this, a Minesweeper.

     In Seattle he (the former Captain) was replaced by a martinet from Annapolis, a man so vain and incompetent, so impatient with advice from experienced sailors and sure of his own right way, that…twenty men went AWOL…  in Seattle.

     The above is from Mr. Marcus’ article.  It appears that he believes that Capt. Marks (for that was his name) came directly from Annapolis to assume command.   If so, that is an impossibility.  DDs (Destroyers) had a Commander as Captain.  I served on a DE (Destroyer Escort) which required only a Lieutenant Commander as Captain.  To become a Commander one must have first passed through the grades of Ensign, Lieutenant JG, Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander so that apart from possibly over rapid wartime promotion Captain Marks was an experienced sailor.  What his commanding syle was I can’t say but I wouldn’t take Capt. Queeg of the fictional novel The Caine Mutiny as a model for Naval officers.  If anything both of the Captains I had were over lenient.  Twenty men going AWOL, apparently wisely, to avoid entering a war zone doesn’t strike me as unusual.

     Now, when the storm struck it caught Halsey and his fleet unawares.  More damage was caused than most minor naval engagements.  Not only were the three DDs lost but another 26 ships were seriously damaged while the carriers had 145 aircraft destroyed.

     So while it is tragic for Mr. Marcus that his father was lost at sea that was only one very small part of a natural disaster no different than a hurricane leveling a midwest town.  Mr. Marcus should get over this feeling of official dereliction on Halsey’s part.  There was a war going on, the ships were involved in an invasion of Mindanao.  Good god, somebody is going to die.

     As it was the Hull came off better than the other two ships.  Only six survived the Monaghan, twenty-four the Spence, while sixty-two survived the Hull.  Whether Capt. Marks was a martinet or not he managed to save the largest proportion of his crew.  He himself says he stepped into the water from the bridge as the ship rolled over.  Sounds OK to me.

     Now, sailing Tin Cans through typhoons.  DDs and DEs were called Tin Cans hence I or any who served on them are called Tin Can Sailors.  The Hull was relatively small for a DD at 341 feet and a beam of 34 feet.  The DE I served on was only 306 feet with a comparable beam to the Hull.  The DDs I saw were all of the order of 400+ feet.

     Except for the Hull the ships were top heavy having deballasted preparatory to refueling at sea.  Refueling became impossible as the seas rose.  It is quite possible that with a normal center of gravity the ships would not have rolled.  The Hull is stated as having 70% of its fuel so it was riding lower.

     Next, Mr. Marcus blames Capt. Marks for being an inept sailor making a wrong decision in a ‘trough.’

     A this point let me say that myself and my shipmates are of the few sailors to have experienced an actual typhoon.  At the end of 1958 we were ordered to sail thorugh a typhoon two days sail above Mindanao off the coast of Japan.  As the rest of the squadron sailed around the typhoon one may conclude our orders were of the malicious sort.  If you want the whole story see Part V of my novel Our Lady Of The Blues especially Clip       on my R.E. Prindle blog here on WordPress.

     What is a trough?  A trough is the depression between waves.  A ship will have a crest fore and aft and a crest on both the port and starboard.  In our case the trough was actually a good sized valley perhaps a half mile in circumference.  As I describe in Our lady at one time we entered a trough crossing over a crest and descending head first toward the bottom.  This is a heartstopper because when the ship levels at the bottom the whole ship from stem to stern except for the superstructure is under water.  I know that’s an impossibility but it is also a fact.  Good god almighty, one doesn’t say prayers, one says:  Hello Davy Jones, good bye world.  I can get tears in my eyes just thinking about it.  Like now.  The water is always moving under the ship so troughs are not stationary.  They may lift you relative to your stem and stern or they may lift the ship broadside up the whole height of a seventy foot wave then rolling you over the crest and into the next trough.  That one give a whole noter idea on the value you place on your life.  But I and the crew sailed into Tokyo Harbor on the ship.

     The question is then was our Captain a good sailor?  Yes, I believe he was, but no matter how good he was survival was always a matter of luck.  There were times when we had no control of the ship, one factor or another could have been the end.  Perhaps a gust of wind at an inappropriate moment.

     The next question then is was Capt. Marks at least a good sailor.  The large number of survivors of the the Hull relative to the other two ships would indicate to me that he was a conscientious Captain and heads up sailor.

     Anybody who would cut their engines at any point in a typhoon should have his head examined.  You cannot maintain control without power.  Also you cannot ‘break out’ of a trough.  If the commentators suggest the trough was ‘stationary’ I suggest that the commentators have never been to sea let alone been in a typhoon.

     I think I can state that the Hull didn’t go down because of a trough.  It rolled, hence it was ascending or descending a wave.  Case closed.  You can’t ride out a typhoon without ascending or descending waves.

     It is tragic that the Hull rolled over and Gerstley was killed.  Still, the man was simply doing his duty and like a million or so others had his head up at the wrong time.  Mr. Marcus should be proud of his father.  He wasn’t one of the cowards who went AWOL.

     As far as this convention in 2006, sixty years after the event, I wouldn’t take seriously anything these eighty some year old guys said.  I couldn’t even remember my last Captain’s name the day after I left the ship.  I have recently learned from a website that his name was Dodge.  I can’t ever remember my mouth forming the name Dodge and Captain Dodge doesn’t even look like the Captain I remember.

     Crews shift and change so often one can remember only the handful of men you were in constant contact with, if those.  First Division, of which I was part, must have had six First Louies while I was aboard and I can remember the name of only the first one, Mossbarger.  I wouldn’t be able to recognize him today.

     So, I would suggest that these old duffs were just trying to make Mr. Marcus’ cute young daughter feel good.  Telling her what they thought she wanted to hear.  Perhaps what her father told her to ask.

     I’m sure Mr. Marcus’ father was as conscientious and heroic as he could be.  He was a fine man who went down with his ship.  Mr. Marcus should be content with this proud fact.  Indeed, he has no choice.  Make a virtue of necessity.

     Personally, if I knew my ship was going to be involved in a typhoon I would go AWOL too.  Surviving one once is all luck.  I might not be so lucky the second time.

      What the hell.  Greil Gerstley helped us win the war.  It was the peace we lost.

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