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  Sunday  June 30  2002    02: 36 AM

It's a small, small world

The Internet sure can eliminate time and space. This is a story about connections. Actually, there is a story within a story. The story within is much larger but needs to be told to set the stage. The story within is about connections too.

My grandfather was Griffith Baily Coale. He started the Naval Combat Artist program just prior to WW II. He not only painted but also wrote about his experiences in two books — North Atlantic Patrol and Victory at Midway. I have a web site that has both these books on it (and soon a lot more) that I call Griff's Story.

I have looked at these books since I was able to look at books. One of my favorite pictures has always been Griff's sketch of the sinking of the Reuben James, which was the first US Naval vessel to be sunk during WW II, in North Atlantic Patrol.

Leaving a Great Pall of Smoke
Licked by Moving Tongues of Orange

Griff was in a nearby destroyer and watched her go down. His description of the rescue efforts is very vivid.

...Crossing to the starboard side, I see the obscure mass of another loaded raft. One man ignites a cigarette lighter and waves it in the darkness. They shout in chorus, but our lines fall short. They are drifting away to leeward. We shout through megaphones: "Hang on! We'll get you!" One man alone is trying to swim toward us. "Come on, buddy!" I bellow, "you can make it!" But the line hove with great skill falls short -- and we chart the course of their drift. It is a lengthy and desperately hard job to get these men aboard.

Like Black Shiny Seals in the Oily Water

The full description is here.

As the night lifted, the rescue efforts had to end because the destroyer was becoming a target for submarines. They had to leave men in the water.

The Reuben James was torpedoed October 31, 1941. Griff recieved this letter almost a year later:

R. D. # l, Box 167
Rahway, New Jersey
August 21, 1942.

Dear Commander Coale:

Almost a year ago you "bellowed" the most encouraging words ever spoken to me - "Come on, Buddy, you can make it!" I did make it. I hung on to my portion of life jacket a few more hours and was picked up.

A short time ago I was released from a naval hospital with another encouraging exclamation - "Keep smiling, Buddy, you made it!"

Although your book, NORTH ATLANTIC PATROL, brings back haunted memories, it is a true memorial to the men of the REUBEN JAMES, as well as the crews of all those four pipers.

I would appreciate very much hearing from you.

Thank you.


From Griffs progress report to the Navy for Sept 29, 1942:

Sept 29 - 0900 Mixing for full size canvas "Sinking Sun, Midway". 1030 to 1150 visited by a survivor of the SS REUBEN JAMES, Thomas Turnbull, electrician 2nd Class, who having read my book, turned out, to be the very man to whom I had bellowed, while we were picking up the JAMES' survivors, "Come on. Buddy, you can make it!" As this is a very interesting coincidence, I am enclosing with this report a copy the letter I received from him prior to his visit. 1150 to 1700 mixing paint. 2000 to 2100 wrote last report to you from log.

The letter, and progress report entry, about Thomas P. Turnbull is not on Griff's web site. I recieved this e-mail this afternoon.

A great site. I am the niece of Reuben James survivor Thomas P. Turnbull.
My dad has a signed copy of North Atlantic patrol.
Karen Turnbull Shangraw.

[9:30 Sunday morning...]

Last night I sent Karen the text of the letter and progress report entry and asked if she knew that her uncle was the one that Griff had bellowed at to hang on. I also asked if the book her dad had was originally her uncle's. I received this reply:

Many thanks for your wonderful letter. I talked to Dad this morning, and the copy he has was inscribed to him and signed by Griff. Tom, who is still alive (although in an assisted care facility) must still have his. So two books must have been involved. Yes, I was aware that Uncle Tom was the guy who had to hang on. He recovered to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering. He was instrumental in perfecting the electron microscope.

Tom's health is failing, but he is still as feisty as ever, and he is still hanging on.