Mike Bo's Blog!
Brushy Creek Journal
Partly Sunny 82° F/15° C in Cedar Park, Texas
Mostly Cloudy 52° F/13° C in Falmouth, England
The sad news reached me, as it so often does these days-by email: ‘’My name is Robert Charles Watson-1944Brockmann and I have been a neighbor of Chuck Watson for over thirty years. I am saddened to report that Chuck passed away today at his home in Tumwater, Washington.” Thus, another long life of a member of what Newsman Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” came to an end. Charlie, as I dubbed when I referred to him as “The Unsinkable Charlie Watson” in my book “LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow, Target” (AMAZON BOOKS), was the ship’s cook aboard the LST 921, when it was torpedoed by the U 667 in the Dover Channel en route to Falmouth, England in August 1944.
The LST 921 was my father’s sister ship. Its crew had trained with the crew of LST 920, the two ships had been built scant days apart. Under weigh, they were alike as the proverbial two peas in the pod. Charlie had been trapped under a tangle of shelves in the narrow companionway of the LST 921, when he was rescued by two “black gang sailors” who had just made their own dramatic escape from the flooding engine room of the 921. After my second edition of my book published in 2016, Watson called me from his home in Tumwater, Washington.
Charlie Watson called me to say Hello! He sounds pretty hale and hearty for an Old Salt of 95! Ninety-five! Not unusual these days, what with all the improvements in lifestyle and medicine. The fact is that Watson’s life could very well have ended at age 23 on a sunny August afternoon in 1944, when his ship was torpedoed in the Dover Channel between Milford Haven, Wales and Falmouth, England. Now approaching completion of his first century, Charles Watson is one of the few living survivors of a German submarine attack on an Allied convoy off the coast of England two months after the D-Day Allied landings at Normandy. His ship, the LST 921 was torpedoed along with the British escort ship LCI(L)99. Survivors were rescued by crewmen from my father’s ship, the LST 920.
Watson’s ordeal is described in my book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target (Amazon Books) about my father’s adventures in the US Navy during World War 2. In an eyewitness account by LST 921 crew member Lloyd Meeker and John Abrams who survived the attack in their own harrowing escape from the ship’s flooded engine room, recounted in separate statements to me; LST 920 took us to Falmouth, England to a Navy hospital. There were lots of cuts and broken bones, Meeker and Abrams recalled. The cook (Charlie Watson) was injured the most. Meeker recalled, the last time I saw him, he had both legs and an arm in casts. He was in traction and his jaw was wired shut. Meeker also recalled, we were told that 43 survivors and one body were taken off the LST 920. All of the rest of the men went down with the stern section!
After being told about my book by his neighbor, Curt Pederson, Watson was calling me to thank Chuck in recent photome for writing about the experience and to fill me in on what happened to him after his rescue. Fully half of the LST 921’s crew was lost in the attack by the German U 667. Watson was one of the lucky survivors rescued by my dad’s ship, the LST 920. I was trapped below deck. Both my legs and one arm were broken. I was trying to crawl out when Meeker grabbed me and got me topside, Watson told me. Meeker got me into the water so I could be pulled onto a raft with some other guys from the ship. Then Watson told me a story that I’m sure he has told countless times since the torpedoing of his ship. All of a sudden, I could see a torpedo trail bubbling through the water, coming straight at me. All I could do was stare at it! What happened next, I asked him? Damned torpedo zipped by right below me. It didn’t hit anything though. I told him about my father standing on the bridge of his ship earlier watching as a torpedo came straight amidships at the LST 920. At the last split-second, the British escort ship came alongside and took the U 667’s torpedo full force and was blown out of the water. What I didn’t know until Watson told me his story, was that my dad’s ship escaped being torpedoed a second time. As Watson was being hoisted aboard the 920, the Captain, Harry Schultz ordered a sharp turn as an evasive maneuver. Another torpedo, fired by the U 667, passed close by, but missed the ship.
Watson was hospitalized ashore after the LST 920 reached Falmouth. He told me, the doctors put him in a full body cast with both legs encased in plaster and wired his jaw shut. Doctors tried to save his badly injured leg, but eventually a Navy surgeon named Wyler told him the leg had turned gangrenous and would have to be amputated. The news stunned the young sailor. Do you have any questions? Dr. Wyler asked him. A lot of guys in your predicament want to know if I have the skills to amputate your leg. Watson acknowledged that the thought had crossed his mind. Do you follow baseball? Asked the surgeon. Yessir! Watson responded. Well! Said Doctor Wyler, I’m the doctor who operated on Dizzy Dean’s elbow. Dean, was a baseball great who played for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs before the war. I don’t know if Charlie realized it at the time, but Dean’s elbow injury ended his baseball stardom. But Watson’s operation saved his life.
The crew of the LST 921 was awarded a total of one hundred Purple Hearts. many of them were awarded posthumously. Charles Watson earned one of them. Ensign Don Joost, the 921’s engineering officer was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism in rescuing many of the crew. Lieutenant Harry Schultz, the LST 920’s captain was summoned before a Naval Inquiry Board for disobeying orders when he turned his ship back to pick up survivors. After two days ashore, Schultz returned to duty and remained in the US Navy until his retirement. The U 667 struck a mine off the coast of France just a few miles from its home base, and what its crew expected to be a hero’s welcome for sinking four Allied ships on that mission. The wreckage of the submarine rests now on the bottom of the English Channel with all hands, a war grave.
Our story about “The Unsinkable Charlie Watson” will be brought full circle, now by his longtime friend and neighbor, Curt Pedersen who wrote to me in another email, “Karen Watson just called me to tell me that her dad died of congestive heart failure Thursday evening. We were hoping he would make it to October, and we could celebrate his one-hundredth birthday! And so, another member of “The Greatest Generation” is gone and with his passing, another tenuous bond to my own father is gone, too.
[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (AMAZON BOOKS) is an award-winning broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant. You can read the entire Rome Diary series, plus more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com …now with Google Translator for our international audience!]
By Mike Botula 2021
LST 920: Charlie Botula's Long, Slow Target!
A welcome addition to your WW2 history collection from AMAZON BOOKS!
Just go to Books at Amazon.com and enter the title or my name in the SEARCH field. Paperback and Kindle!
LST 920: Charlie Botula's Long, Slow Target! Now available in Australia from Booktopia.com.au