1941: Texas Goes to War Page: 47
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The navy and Texas were hit hard at the end of February 1942 by the sinking
of the cruiser USS Houston in the Sundra Strait. The battle-scarred Houston
steamed into a strong Japanese force and destroyed two loaded transport ships
before it sank. The day before, the Houston had been one of only two Allied ships
to survive the Battle of the Java Sea, called "that forlorn battle" by Winston
Churchill. And only a few weeks before, on February 4, 1942, the Houston had
lost 48 men and a turret when it ran into 54 enemy planes. The Houston had a
crew of more than 1,000 men, but only 370 survived the battles and the sinking.
Houstonians were shocked when they learned their ship and men had been
lost. On Memorial Day 1942, 150,000
people gathered in downtown Houston
to pay their respects to the lost sailors. In
a twilight ceremony that evening, 1,000
young volunteers were sworn into the
navy to replace the lost force, and a new
navy recruiting poster urged men to
"Avenge the Houston! Join the Navy
with the Houston Volunteers." Texans
already had purchased enough war bonds
to pay for the construction of a new USS
Houston, a light cruiser.
One of the many Texans who served
aboard the Houston in the Pacific was
Albert Kennedy of Edna. As he started
up the ladder after the order to abandon
ship, a shell exploded at the top, knock- Families across Texas were outraged when they learned of the
ing him back down. Wearing his life sinking of the USS Houston. More than 1,000 Texans lined up
jacket, he jumped overboard cannonball- outside the Music Hall in Houston to volunteer for the navy.
style into the water which was churning (USS Hosn Memorial Collection, M. . Anderson library,
s University of Houston)
with exploding shells. Kennedy made it
to a raft, but it was full, so he hung on to
one of the side ropes. On the raft he saw an old friend from Marshall and tried to
joke with him, asking if he wished he had his sharkskin suit with him. His friend
Later that night, Kennedy swam toward the Java shore, finding refuge aboard
another raft at daybreak. The sailors from both rafts floated into a fleet of Japa-
nese merchant ships and were taken to shore by an armed landing craft. Once
ashore the sailors were lined up on the beach by a Japanese officer, who, to
Kennedy's surprise, spoke perfect English and was a graduate of U.C.L.A. The
sailors from the other raft were never seen again, and Kennedy believes they
were machine-gunned to death. "I think we're alive probably because of that
Japanese officer," he said.
ITAS GoEs To WAR 47
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Lee, James Ward; Barnes, Carolyn N.; Bowman, Kent A. & Crow, Laura. 1941: Texas Goes to War, book, 1991; Denton, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28326/m1/65/: accessed December 2, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.