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"Dutch" and the Juneau

In honor of Memorial Day, I am posting a profile about this relative who served our country during World War 2.

Thomas Olin Oberrender, Jr. was born 24 September 1906 in DuBois*, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Thomas and Helena "Lena"(nee Graaf) Oberrender.

After receiving his education from Bellefonte Academy, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. While there, he earned the nickname "Dutch."

From the 1927 edition of the Naval Academy yearbook, "The Lucky Bag":

Dutch comes from one of those places in Pennsylvania surrounded by green mountains and Nature at her best; a place where one would expect one of his natural characteristics to come from. He hails from the land of hard and level-headed men. What he says you can bank on to be sound and good advice....Two years a Red Mike at the Academy, but watch his speed on leaves. Then the bushy eyebrows take their numerous toll of the fair sex.

(A "Red Mike" is defined as someone who eschews women and dating)

Dutch is hard-working, hard-loving, hard-playing, but let us not say hard-studying. He has little trouble with the academics, but yet he is not exactly a savoir. No, he is not a super-man, but just a jolly good fellow, and the life of any party regardless of the kind or nature it may be. Always ready to lend a helping hand and...although we know he is trying to be an aviator we know he will be a real friend and a shipmate to be desired.

After graduating in 1927, he joined the fleet in Panama. By that time Nicaragua had been engaged in a civil war for three years. When the rebels began to threaten U.S. companies and interests in the area, President Calvin Coolidge dispatched military support. Thomas participated in this campaign and won a medal for outstanding service.

In 1929 he was ordered to China to join the Asiatic Fleet. Soon after his arrival, his ship took an active role in the Yangtze River Campaign.

Upon his return to the States, he married Muriel Elinor Colthurst on 13 July 1932, the daughter of an old and well known California family.

Commander Oberrender returned to sea duty in the Pacific from 1932 to 1934. He was then selected to attend the Navy Post Graduate School in Annapolis for an engineering course. Once he completed the course in 1936, he returned to active duty in the Pacific until 1940. His next assignment was at the New York Shipbuilding yards at Camden, New Jersey where he was the inspector of machinery for the U.S. Navy.

After his tour of duty at the shipyard, Lieutenant Commander Oberrender was ordered to the U.S.S. Juneau (CL-52), an Atlanta-class light cruiser . He supervised the installation of machinery before the cruiser was commissioned and launched on 25 October 1941.

After a shakedown cruise along the Atlantic Coast in the spring of 1942, the Juneau patrolled the Caribbean in early May, blockading the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in an effort to prevent the escape of Vichy French naval units. Returning to New York to complete alterations, she operated in the North Atlantic and Caribbean from 1 June to 12 August performing patrol and escort duties. The cruiser departed for the Pacific on 22 August 1942.

Dutch and the Juneau saw their first major action in the Pacific during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands. Early on the morning of 26 October, U.S. carrier planes uncovered the enemy force and immediately attacked it, damaging two Japanese aircraft carriers, one heavy cruiser and two destroyers. While American aircraft were locating and engaging the enemy, American ships were also under fire. Shortly after 10 a.m., approximately 27 enemy aircraft attacked the USS Hornet, an American aircraft carrier. Although the Juneau and other ships threw up an effective anti-aircraft (AA) barrage which shot down about 20 of the attackers, the Hornet was badly damaged and sank the next day. Just before noon, the Juneau left the Hornet's escort for the beleaguered Enterprise group several miles away. Adding her firepower, the Juneau assisted in repelling four enemy attacks on this force and shooting down 18 Japanese planes. The battle proved costly but, combined with the Marine victory on Guadalcanal, it turned back the attempted Japanese attack in the Solomon Islands. In addition, the damaging of two Japanese carriers severely hampered the enemy's air power in the subsequent Battle of Guadalcanal.

On 8 November, the Juneau departed New Caledonia to escort reinforcements and supplies to Guadalcanal. Arriving the morning of 12 November, the Juneau took up station in the protective screen around the transports and cargo vessels. In the midst of unloading, Japanese messages were intercepted and, along with reconnaissance reports, revealed that Japanese naval forces were approaching. In the early afternoon 30 Japanese planes attacked. The AA fire was effective, with the Juneau accounting for shooting down six enemy torpedo bombers. The few remaining Japanese planes were, in turn, attacked by American fighters; only one bomber escaped. Later in the day, an American attack group of cruisers and destroyers cleared Guadalcanal on reports that a large enemy surface force was headed for the island.

In the early morning hours on 13 November, the Battle of Guadalcanal began when the Americans engaged the "Tokyo Express" Japanese task force which consisted of two battleships, one light cruiser, and eleven destroyers. Because of bad weather and poor radar coordination, the American forces tried to identify the exact location of the Japanese warships. At 1:45 a.m., the Juneau received the order to "Stand by to open fire." Shortly thereafter, a Japanese searchlight flashed and the lead American destroyers opened fire. The battle occurred in near-pitch darkness and at almost point-blank range, a mere 1,600 yards.

Just a few minutes into the fighting, the Juneau was struck on the port side near the forward fire room by a torpedo launched by a Japanese destroyer. The explosion buckled the deck, shattered the fire control computers and knocked out power.

As the Engineering Officer, Dutch was at his battle station below deck when he was wounded following the torpedo strike. After making emergency repairs, he made his way unassisted to the sick bay where a doctor attended to him and stitched up his wound. He refused to stay in sick bay and, against the protests of the doctor, returned to his chief engineer's station.

The Juneau joined two other cruisers damaged in the battle, the Helena and the San Francisco, and three destroyers at dawn the next morning. The Juneau was operating with only one screw, keeping station 800 yards off the starboard quarter of the likewise severely damaged San Francisco.

Shortly after 11 a.m., three torpedoes were launched from the Japanese submarine I-26. They were intended for the San Francisco, but both passed ahead of her. One struck the Juneau near the location of the prior torpedo hit. The ship's magazine was struck, causing a great explosion. The Juneau broke in two and disappeared in just 20 seconds, killing most of the crew.

Lt. Roger O'Neil, a medical officer of the Juneau, described it from the deck of the San Francisco:

I saw the spot where the Juneau had been. The only thing visible was tremendous clouds of grey and black smoke....The men told me that the Juneau appeared to explode instantaneously and appeared to break in two, both segments of which sunk in 20 seconds.... The signalman on the bridge of the Helena was in the process of taking a message from the Juneau and had his glass trained on the signalman of that ship and reports that the signalman was blown at least 30 fee in the air.

Fearing more attacks from the Japanese submarine and wrongly assuming from the massive explosion that there were no survivors, the Helena and the San Francisco departed. In fact, approximately 115 crew member had survived the sinking of the Juneau. They were left to fend for themselves in the open ocean for eight days before rescue efforts began. While awaiting rescue, all but 10 died from the elements and shark attacks. Lt. Commander Thomas "Dutch" Oberrender was not one of them. He was not seen again after returning to his station during the battle.

Several times Dutch had written to his wife that the courage and spirit of the men in the Fleet were beyond belief. Despite the constant strain of hours on alert and under fire, there was no complaining as each man lived in the hope of hitting the enemy again and hitting him hard. In one letter he said that that every man in the Fleet was a hero in his own right.

The United States Navy named a John C. Butler-class destroyer escort the U.S.S. Oberrender (DE-344) in his honor. It was launched on 18 January 1944 and commissioned 11 May 1944. She participated in the Leyte landings, the Lingayen Gulf Landing, and the assault and occupation of Okinawa. While stationed with the outer anti-submarine screen to the west of Okinawa on 9 May 1945, the Oberrender received a report of an approaching kamikaze attack at 6:40 p.m. She picked up a lone Japanese aircraft on her radar ten minutes later and lookouts sighted the plane at 6:52 as it entered a dive toward the ship. One of the plane's wings was torn off by the Oberrender's anti-aircraft fire, causing the aircraft to veer to the right, but it still crashed into the starboard 20 mm gun mount, destroying it. The bomb carried by the aircraft penetrated the main deck and exploded in the forward fire room, knocking out power and leaving her dead in the water. The explosion heavily damaged the ship and nearly broke her in half, blowing the starboard hull plating outwards for a quarter of her length and pushing up the main deck. In the attack, eight men were killed and fifty-three wounded. The Oberrender was declared irreparably damaged, and she was decommissioned on 11 July 1945. Her serviceable equipment was removed and it was used as a target for gunnery practice and sunk on 6 November 1945.

U.S.S. Oberrender (DE-344)

On 17 March 2018, the wreckage of the U.S.S. Juneau was discovered. It was found 4,200 meters (about 2.6 miles) below the surface, resting on the floor of the South Pacific off the coast of the Solomon Islands.

*In case you were wondering, DuBois, PA was named after a relative, but more on that in another post.


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