U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner DD-692
Memories & Poetry by Mrs. Katherine Elaine Williamson


Katherine & John's daughter Kathy watching the Sumner return to Mayport from Deployment

NAVY WIFE
written in Ft. Lauderdale September 2, 1958

How many times have I stood on a pier
And awaited your shipís return?
The thrill of seeing her come into sight
From her proud bow to her stern,
Waiting until she moves close enough
To finally see you there,
Leaning casually against the rail
As if you didnít care,
Close enough to look in your eyes
And suddenly getting lost
In the depth of your gaze that shows
What being apart has cost.
How many times have I stood on a pier
And watched you put out to sea?
How many times have I watched the
Distance widen between you and me?
The water and distance may widen
But our bond of love is there
Keeping us close together,
Invisibly, through the air.
It seems a million times or more
Iíve waved you out to sea,
A million times of watching
My life sail away from me!

You may hear Katherine perform NAVY WIFE with musical accompaniment on the Sounds of Vietnam Page

Poem on occasion of Sumner’s 22nd birthday - 1966

Over a score of years mark her as the matriarch of the seas,
And as she cuts the sapphire waters into white ribbon-like strips,
Her proud bow just a little higher than her sister ships,
The ghosts of all who strode her decks were piped aboard, or her innards cursed
In silent, unseen attention stand and give a smart salute
As the Sumner passes by in review; enroute
To serve her country for her twenty-second year,
In time of war, in time of peace and in time of fear
The Sumner reassures us all and she remembers other years;
In some half-forgotten shipyard another keel was laid,
Just another keel it was that unmarked day in ’44,
And yet, when as a ship she slid down the ways,
It was a proud name that she bore,
For the name, Allen M. Sumner, was on another ship,
An old “four-stacker”, A Pearl Harbor survivor,
She went on to glory and final battle in Pacific Action
And so the Sumner, World War II model, fitted out,
Armed, ready to go, had a name to live up to,
The commissioning, a ceremony to remember,
The shakedown cruise, manned by experience and sea-sickness,
The very decks vibrating with readiness,
And so the inevitable and soon to the Pacific War
“Action in the Pacific” and those words meant these:
The blazing guns, the cacophony of battle,
The rolling depth charges, the planes, the tracers,
The terrible beauty of a night action at sea,
The typhoons, the back-water lagoons,
Warm beer rations, months-old letters from home re-read to tatters,
Endless drills, the violence of death in war,
Confrontations of the enemy and the fearless action,
and the score for Sumner settled with this reports finality:
Sunk: One Japanese destroyer; assisted on another,
But fate had still not played her final card,
For out of the searing skies hurtled something heretofore unknown,
A Kamikaze pilot, a peculiarity of the Japanese,
Intent on taking the Sumner with him to meet his ancestors,
The Sumner took a hit for one made it past her guns
And burst in flames on through the deck,
Casualties ran high but a gallant ship refused to go down,
Pennants streaming she steamed home in the after-glow of victory,
Her men knowing yet that the war years aboard
were years they would cherish all their lives,
Behind a desk, a plow, delivering the mail,
Or standing on other steel-plated decks,
The men would remember those years and this ship
With something akin to a nostalgic love affair!
For time can soften harsh realities, and boredom, routine,
Even hell, can eventually be remembered as rather comforting,
Men came and went all the long, post war years,
Battleships went to where battleships go to die,
And smaller ships tied up row upon row of silent heroines,
Preserved in cocoon-like shrouds, forever waiting in suspension,
But the Tin Can, the Sumner, still throbbed with engines full,
and then Korea came and she was ready,
More men became “born sailors”
And the Sumner added another battle ribbon,
Was it peace time again? Everyone said it was,
But it was time to learn new technologies,
Anti-submarine warfare became the thing to learn
And men were primed for all the new techniques,
Rockets, sonar, and the Sumner got “Frammed”
And old salts would not recognize her silhouette!
And in between the drills, the studies, the reports,
Annapolis men came aboard for summer cruises
The future officers getting their sea legs,
Cruises, training, drills, operations, seemingly monotonous,
Endless routine making crews restless,
But the reason for the readiness came soon enough,
Russian missile sites in Cuba . . . on our very doorstep!
The little homeport of Mayport became a scene right out of history,
All the paraphernalia of war was spread on piers,
And stacked on decks and readiness crackled like electricity,
And all men know the routine had been for a moment like this,
Suddenly the ships got up steam and with them the Sumner
Steamed out of the basin, her flag snapping in the breeze,
Ready to confront any ship, to challenge on Presidential order,
But the confrontation did not come and it was over,
And the Sumner adds another ribbon to an impressive row,
And then another crisis, another Caribbean Island,
And the Sumner was there off Santo Domingo, boilers going
And full steam ahead, guns trained and loaded,
The reality of war, or revolution was all around,
And the Sumner served her country well,
Back to Mayport where wives, children, friends forever wait
To welcome back their men,
And did the older men who served in World War II
Remember other years and other days?
The Sumner now lies an ocean away, a unit of the Sixth Fleet,
On a “Med Cruise”, for perfume, cameos, souvenirs, “bargains”,
Or will it be more serious, a crisis perhaps?
Whatever comes, the Sumner will be there, her ribbons proudly worn,
Her emblem shines for all to see, “Sui Generis”,
First of its kind is what the emblem means,
Twenty years ago a super destroyer and here on this cruise
In the Fall and Winter of 1965
Still first of her kind . . . and last of her kind,
The oldest destroyer of her class in active service in the U.S. Navy,
Twenty-two years when January 26, 1966 rolls around,
A salute to a gallant lady!
A salute to a gallant crew!
A salute to all men who served aboard,
The men in Navy Blue! . . . . . .

Mail home from Katherine's husband EMC John E. Williamson


March 3, 1967
U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner (DD692)
c/o FPO San Francisco, Calif.  96601
 

Hi Honey, 

Well, about an hour ago, I dropped that short letter along with the post card pictures of the islands in the mail box.  I walked around topside looking over the mountains in the background and valleys behind Pearl Harbor.  

Today is one of those days that the rain clouds just seem to be suspended over the mountains and hanging down in the valleys.  Everything is so green and [illegible] looking.  You can also see the pineapple fields and the red dirt around the rows upon rows of pineapple.  Where we are tied up, as I said before, is the very eastern end of the east lock just up ľ of a mile across from Ford Island and the Arizona Memorial and just opposite the big naval supply building.   

If you will look in that book, Day of Infamy, there is a map of Pearl Harbor as it was Dec. 7, 1941.  If you look at it closely, you will see where the old original Sumner was tied up Dec. 7, 1941.  When we came in here on Sunday, the 26th of February, we tied up just across opposite the basin where the old Sumner is located on the map.  On Dec. 7th, the Japanese torpedo planes used this basin to line up on the battleships ó most of them. Due to the length of this basin, it gave added running and dropping room for the torpedo runs.  The planes came in from four different directions; some even flew right down at water level coming in the entrance channel to Pearl turning right at east lock and making these runs on the aircraft and hangars of Ford Island.  Others came in from the northwest flying low over Pearl City and attacking the ships on the north side of Ford Island.  Still others came in from the east flying right down the valleys between the mountains.  The 51 dive bombers and 40 torpedo planes converged on the battleships all at the same time while the high-level bombers did their work, and the fighters struck other targets.  There were around 150 planes attacking in the first wave starting at 7:55 a.m., and the second wave of around 136 planes attacking at around 9:00 a.m.  The attacks were over about 10:00 a.m. that Sunday morning. 

Peace and serenity is what you see now, not the thunder of exploding torpedoes and bursting bombs as it was over 25 years ago.  Not the roar and scream of diving aircraft, not the screams of wounded and dying men, not the helpless feeling of not being able to fight back ó just stand and watch your friends, your shipmates and pride of the Navy go down in fire, smoke and hell.

So this evening I just walked around topside, stopping now and then thinking of my living here as a boy and the war and so on.  I decided to stay near the stern where I could see the Memorial as it was getting close to evening colors, and the sun was beginning to set behind the clouds in the west.  Also, I wanted to see how the colors were handled at the Memorial.  As I mentioned before, the Arizona is still carried as an in-commission ship, so all passing honors and morning and evening colors are conducted. 

At first call to colors, a Navy boat left Ford Island and came alongside the landing at the Memorial.  A group of sailors got out and commenced turning lights on inside the Memorial.  Then as the time came, they smartly hauled down the colors, ending another day for the honored dead of the Arizona.  I noticed more than the usual number of people topside watching these proceedings and being quieter than usual.  No laughing or joking before or after colors. 

After a while, I came down to the quarters and found that mail had arrived, and I received two letters from you mailed the 28th or so.  Itís about two days on mail from here to Florida ó not bad.  I was very glad to hear from you, Honey, and also glad to hear the check for $50.00 got there.  Iím sorry to hear about all the cold weather you are having around there.  Hope it eases up soon. 

That was nice of Ann to take Bob to Daytona for his birthday.  I guess they did have a cold time of it.  Well, honey, I guess this is all for now, so tell everyone at church hello and write soon.

                                    I love you, John


March 23, 1967
U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner (DD692)
c/o FPO San Francisco, Calif.  96601
 

Hi Honey,
 

By the time you receive this letter we will be on station with the Hancock and finally, after all the steaming six weeks of it, down to the business at hand.  We are to join the Hancock late tonight.  But according to various radio messages coming in, there seems to be some speculation about the Sumner going up on the gun line.  Well, as I already mentioned, schedules donít mean too much around here.  You have to be ready for a change in assignments on short notice.  Ten to one if we go to the gun line.  You will hear of it on the news or TV before you hear it from me.  We just hope that we are not on the receiving end of the ďincoming mail.Ē  You know what that term is.   

But I believe old ďRoadblockĒ (thatís the Sumnerís code name) will perform any task assigned and do a most outstanding job of it.  Some of these people are very shaky and nervous about being assigned to the gun line.  I cannot understand why, and it burns me up to hear some of these people worry and complain.  I feel that no matter how right or wrong our government might be, we are here to perform the duties assigned us no matter what the outcome is.
 

I retaped your poems [ďPremonition on the BeachĒ and ďNavy WifeĒ written by Chief Williamsonís wife, Elaine (Katherine)] on Chief Pelzís tape recorder.  He bought one of those Akai M-8ís at the exchange in Yokosuka just before we left.  


April 30, 1967
U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner (DD692)
c/o FPO San Francisco, Calif.  96601
 

Hi Honey,
 

Well, here it is the last day of April and four more months and some odd days to go before arrival in Mayport[, Florida, the Sumnerís home port].
 

It is now Sunday morning about 8:30 a.m. and we are in position directly astern of the Hancock who is receiving her air groups back aboard after having completed their attacks on targets in North Vietnam.  These planes are of various types:  crusaders, phantoms, fighters and the old pros, the A40ís propeller-driven attack bombers.  As they return in formation groups of three or four planes in each group, they circle the carrier task group jettisoning extra fuel in a fine spray from their wing tanks.  Then the lead plane in a group peels off from the group in a neat, snappy roll to the left and heads for his final approach to the stern of the carrier passing directly over the following destroyer at just a couple of hundred feet altitude. 

I have stood on the [illegible] and watched these returning planes time and again ó the roar of their screaming afterburners as they pass over, their precision plane landing, the very small flight deck area they have to sit these big planes down on at over 130 MPH.  One mistake and you are gone.  You find that as you watch these young American airmen, you know that they are the best and the sacrifice they are making is the greatest.  It takes untold courage to fly these big jets day and night from the decks of these Essex class carriers.  These young warriors deserve the best that our nation can offer them.  We sweat each of their landings, hoping for no mishap.  I donít know how other peopleís feelings are seeing these youngsters return, but old ďdadĒ swells with pride and wishes he could tell each of them how proud he is of their performance. 

Well, we went alongside the ammo ship, Virgo, late yesterday evening and took on over 500 rounds of bombardment ammo, so our magazines are full.  Itís just not possible to say what our operation plans will be beyond one day.  Just after I had written to you a few days ago, we were informed that the ships having 5-inch 54ís would return to the firing line.  Then our date for Sea Dragon was changed from the 1st to the 8th of May.  Then sometime between last night and this morning we received word that we will go on Sea Dragon tonight at 1600.  So here we go again.  Air mail situation will be delayed while on Sea Dragon for a couple of days more in transit.  I hope that they manage to take mail off of the ship before we leave the Hancock this evening. 

I understand that we are to relieve the U.S.S. Barney on Sea Dragon.  She is a fairly new destroyer that came around from the lost coast bringing Commodore Althoff, Dis Div 162,  over to us.  They picked up Althoff from the Ware in Gitmo.  Des Ron 16 Porter is riding the Forrest Royal since the Bigelow went to Sulic.  We hear the Bigelow is coming out soon. 

I found out the other day that the post office has some sort of special mailing of package and newspapers for Armed Forces personnel in the Vietnam area.  I wonder if the post office in Green Cove [Springs, Florida] is aware of it.  Wheeler received a Sunday paper from his wife in Maryland in seven days, and I did not see any postage stamps.  But the wrapping was stamped in big letters ďSAM.Ē
 

You know, there is something I would like you to send me one of these days ó is four big boxes of that chocolate drink mix you buy for the kids.  We donít get fresh milk, except in port, and this drink mix would be a change from coffee.   Any other goodies you can think of would be a help.  Ha. 

Well, Honey, I guess this is all for now.  I want to get this letter in the mail as it could be sent off anytime soon.  Tell everyone hello and write soon. 

                                          I love you, John


May 17, 1967
U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner (DD692)
c/o FPO San Francisco, Calif.  96601
 

Hi Honey, 

Here it I Wednesday afternoon about 4:00 p.m. and another big day of the Hobart, Sumner & Company Destruction, Inc., phone DD 39 or DD 692. 

After I finished my letter to you last night and just as I was about to step in the shower, we were sent to battle stations again.  Another convoy of trucks on the move, so away we went full tilt to the location reported and commenced shooting up the area.  I would hate to be a truck driver over on the beach.  It must be a rough job dodging five-inch shells.  Ha.  We donít know how much damage we did, though. 

We went to battle stations about 8:30 a.m. this morning to shoot up a truck concentration and logistic area.  After about ten minutes of firing, they opened up on us with ten or eleven different guns over on the beach.  So the Hobart and Sumner shifted into high gear and with boiling wakes and guns afiring made off for safer waters.  Ha.  Our counter battery fire was a target, but we didnít get all of them.  As usual, the Hobart was their main target.  They shot ahead of her on both sides and astern of her.  They fired at us, but only came within a couple of hundred yards.   

We listened to a tape recording later that one of the yeomen made up on the bridge while all this was going on.  This Aussie is pretty cool.  As the counter batteries shots started landing, he, in typical English accent, spoke over the ship-to-ship radio the distance and bearing of these first shots ó just like it was old stuff.  As soon as they mentioned this, the bridge of the Sumner sounded like a tape recorder running away.  Everyone was hollering.  Ha.  Later on, this Aussie made these remarks, ďI say, they must have plenty of ammo as now they are shooting at you.Ē Ha. 

When we go into an area, the Hobart always takes up station behind the Sumner as we carry the Commodore.  But as we were both high-tailing it out to sea this morning, she passed us like we were backing up. Ha.  The Hancock sent in an air strike on these remaining guns and wiped them out, so they wonít bother anyone for a while. 

Well, we did not get those newspaper people aboard after all as we are leaving Sea Dragon for at least three days.  This all came about early this morning.  We and the Hobart are now proceeding south to join the  cruiser St. Paul, a heavy cruiser carrying nine eight-inch guns.  As I understand it, there is to be another amphibious landing down south of the DMZ.  I donít know, but I expect the Marines will do it.  Anyway, we will be providing gun fire support for the troops.  We will be shooting more than ever now.  We join the St. Paul for a briefing in about an hour.  After this, we will know more about the operation. 

We just received a message from the task group commander congratulating the Sumner and Hobart for outstanding gunnery and destroying enemy concentrations.  The box score for this past week (not counting yesterday and today) was 41 logistic craft destroyed, 41 damaged, 19 buildings destroyed, around 20 or 30 trucks destroyed, and numerous other targets destroyed, including gun sites and a SAM site.  It is said by the spotter pilots that between the Sumner and Hobart we have done more damage than the previous six destroyers put together have done. 

These pilots, I understand, are volunteering extra missions because they like working with us and seeing good results of our combined efforts.  We have been getting quite a lot of praise from everyone.  I know we were a good team, but I didnít think we were that high above other ships on Sea Dragon.  The last comment of the task force commander was, ďI know the North Vietnamese can appreciate your effectiveness even more than I can.Ē Ha. 

We received word that we would not have our regular pay day in the morning.  Iím hoping that we can still get our checks.  If so, I will send it in this letter.  So I guess this is about all for now.  We still donít have all the details on our next mission.  I guess we will know as soon as we know.  I will add on to this letter. 


May 18, 1967

Hi again, 

Well, we went to battle stations at 5:30 a.m. this morning.  Commenced firing at 6:00 a.m. and around 8:00 a.m. the Marines landed.  We continued to bombard the beaches ahead of the Marines.  This landing was made in the DMZ.  We were just north of the landing point about level with a place called C. Lay.  We later took on targets to the south and west of the landing area.  About ten minutes after we opened up, a counter battery took us under fire and came pretty close with four shots.  We had two shots land in the water off of our starboard side and the shells exploding deep in the water sounded like a large hammer pounding the hull.  One shot landed ahead of us and another about 30 yards off of our stern. 

We poured over a hundred rounds of rapid fire at this counter battery.  Seems he was located just to the north of the DMZ.  We did not receive any further fire from this area, so we continued firing support for Marine spotters on the beach and also spotters in the air.  It looked just like the old World War II landings. 

The Sumner alone fired over 720 rounds into various areas, and we saw one very large explosion that seemed to be an ammo dump.  The flame, smoke and debris really flew.  We continued to fire until 11:00 a.m., so we really had the shell cases stacked up.  The Hobart had two gun problems this morning and for a while both her guns were out of commission.  She finally got her forward gun mount in operation, but still had the after gun mount out of commission.  The last we heard, she has those automatic five-inch 54ís. 

We also had problems this morning.  We wound up with three of our guns out of service, but three still shooting.  Seems some parts broke in them.  I expect they will be back in service before too long. 

Among other targets this morning, we wiped out some machine-gun nests.  We have not received an evaluation of how effective our shooting was, but my guess was it was pretty darn good.  I would think that we accounted for quite a few V.C.ís  This operation is to clear these troops out of the DMZ. 

I hear that we have fired over 1500 rounds since we joined Sea Dragon.  We are not on Sea Dragon right now, but will be back on it as soon as we are released from this assignment. 

Things have been quiet this afternoon.  We only have about four hundred rounds of this [illegible] type of projectiles for the type of shooting we have to do.  I hear we will take on about 1,000 rounds tomorrow when we replenish. 

We still havenít received our checks, and I suppose we wonít until tomorrow.  We havenít been informed of our next mission as yet.  I will write again after our next mission, so tell everyone hello for me and write soon. 

I love you, John


Thanks to John and Katherine's daughter Janis C. Smith for sharing these items with us