USS San Francisco: A story connecting four national parks, from the Pacific to New England (2023)

In one corner of the artifact collections at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is a World War II relic that shows signs of extreme violence.

My name is Christopher Edwards and I am one of the rangers here at San Francisco Maritime. Many of the staff and I were surprised to find this artifact in our collection. And indeed, few people know about the existence of this item. While there are naval history students who know the context of the story behind this item, there are sister artifacts on display at a monument at Land's End in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area here in San Francisco.

Well, here we are at the USS San Francisco Memorial, located in a place called Lands End in San Francisco. And Lands End is actually part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, making it our second national park ever: San Francisco Maritime and now Golden Gate National Recreation Area. And this monument to the USS San Francisco is what people often think of when they are familiar with the history of this ship.

Now this memorial does a number of things very well, but one of the things that I find really interesting about this memorial is the image of the ship that you see here in the stone: it really, really captures the outline of the ship. . And the San Francisco would have been classified as a heavy cruiser. This is a mid-size ship, but this image captures what that means very well. This meant that she carried an 8-inch gun, seen here in the forward turrets, against the much larger Japanese ships she faced that night.

In this case, the two Japanese battleships involved had 14-inch guns instead of the 8-inch guns aboard the San Francisco. So it was quite a dire situation considering the smaller American ships versus the much larger Japanese ships that night and especially how the two fleets got mixed up.

Some of the veterans of that battle described it simply as a bar fight in which the American ships fired on the Japanese ships, the Japanese fired on the American ships, the US fired on its own forces, the Japanese did the same... situation.

But that's what this sea battle is about. The Guadalcanal campaign lasted for months and resulted at this crucial moment in two separate night battles, the first of which produced the monument we see here now.

But if you take a closer look at the monument, you can see what is usually done at memorial sites or on museum ships, that is, preservation. This is outside so it is exposed to the elements. Very typically, what you'll see is Hayes gray painted on monuments and museum ships across the country, making the piece that San Francisco Maritime has in its collection stand out because it retains that ship's original livery that night. But this memorial captures the desperation and violence of that night so well, so let's take a look.

Okay, so we're on the opposite side of the monument here, and you can see two of the attacks that San Francisco suffered during filming that night. And this whole side is covered in damage, but these two openings in particular represent two hits, which the Navy called hits eight and nine, and they were apparently 5-inch gun hits. Pretty small if you remember the San Francisco had eight-inch guns, which are five-inch guns, so small as far as shots go, but they can be just as lethal.

But it was assumed that this was from a Japanese destroyer, therefore one of the smaller ships. And normally these ships have two guns per turret; So if she fired both guns, it's no surprise that those two holes were created by that salvo. So we have these two big holes here, but it's the fragments that are blown out and, in this case, blown in that can really cause injury and death to the crew.

So here we are inland, what would have been the bridge area of ​​the USS San Francisco. So you can see the internal results of these two hits that we just saw from the outside. It's important to remember that this was the bridge of the USS San Francisco, so it's the command center if you want to think about it.

San Francisco, the ship, was also the flagship of the US special force that night, so in addition to the captain and the captain's immediate staff, the admiral and the admiral's staff were also in the immediate vicinity . Therefore, a large number of ship crews exercise ship command and fleet command at this hill station. And when blows like this came and broke, he scattered splinters that were scattered among those people. And that is why there have been so many victims in these types of scams.

This memorial is about these people. And so, next to these pieces, there is also a plaque that records the names of the people who were lost on the ship that night.

Well, here we are in the center of the memorial. Several plaques are on display here, including this long, thin one: Wounded in Action. So as you can see, it's a very, very long list of those who were injured during the fight but actually survived. So this is the board for these crew members. There is a separate one nearby for those who did not survive.

Also, it's a pretty long list of all the ship's crew, the Navy sailors, and at the end we have the Navy section of those who were killed in action. I'll just point out some of these names here. This first - Daniel J. Callaghan. That was the US Task Force Admiral during that battle.

So that's where he and his team would be aboard the San Francisco. And from what I've read, almost all of his employees died in this operation, including himself. But it wasn't just the admiral's people up here. This was the ship's command center. So you also had the captain of the ship that was here, Cassin Young.

So he was in charge for about a week, two weeks tops, not a long time. But they were both on the San Francisco Bridge during that battle and, like the admiral, he did not survive. And it's amazing to think that a single name like that has so many connections to the US National Park Service right up to modern times, because it's Cassin Young's story that really connects four different national parks.

So here we have the last forgotten surviving piece of the USS San Francisco, which people didn't know actually survived for many, many years. It's obviously a smaller piece than the one we saw at Land's End Memorial. And it's from a less recognizable part of the ship, although it's still from the bridge structure where the captain would have commanded the ship during the battle that caused the damage we see.

More specifically, it is a bulwark piece that resembles a ship's railing. But when he says bulwark, he means a solid piece rather than individual sections. So here's a single solid piece of bulwark at the aft end of the bridge of the USS San Francisco. So the garrison that would occupy the bridge during the Battle of Guadalcanal would be on the opposite side. So what you would have seen if the ship's crew had been here from that perspective.

So when I look at you, using ship nomenclature, it would mean I'm looking aft. That means I'm looking at the back of the ship. But this bulwark, like most bulwark designs, has a bit of shelf space here. So if you can think of some of the crew, the captain, maybe the admiral, who was also on board the ship during the battle... They usually carried binoculars to get a good look at the things they saw. So the shelf here is really well positioned for the elbows so they can really stabilize what they're looking at.

And at the same time, if he was a crew member, maybe he worked here as a lookout or some other employee - one of the commoners was called a speaker. He often wore a large headset and microphone so he could relay the captain's orders through the comm system. But he also tries to avoid the captain. So if he can imagine, the crew is really trying to avoid the captain. The Captain will literally knock people over if they get in his way. There is a lot of hustle and bustle here. Especially since it was chaotic during this battle.

As for the damage that we can see on this piece that has survived, it's mainly this big hole here along with the damage from the surrounding fragment, which is also visible on the back. But according to US Navy documents, that hole was created by a 6-inch shell. So that would be six inches in diameter and long.

According to Japanese documents, the only two ships in that battle that could have produced a shell that hit the San Francisco at that time were the battleships Hiei and Kiroshima. Now her main batteries were big 14" guns, but her secondary batteries were 6" guns. And those were the only existing Japanese 6-inch guns. So what we're looking at here is more likely the trajectory of the shell going up slightly and entering the bulwarks at an angle here, and somewhere over there, the shell would have exploded.

But this piece not only preserves the damage and shows the ferocity of the battle, it also preserves much of the paint. Well, because that was inside and didn't need to be constantly repainted... what you see on many museums and memorial ships today is the standard navy grey, but it's actually a little different. It appears gray but has a dark, bluish or greenish tint. That was one of the main things that stood out and why I was so excited when I found out there was another surviving piece that was rarely left out.

Well, there are many stories that an artifact can tell, especially in a situation like this where we are talking about a naval battle involving many thousands of sailors - San Francisco itself had between eleven and twelve hundred crew members. But if we focus on just one person, the captain of the USS San Francisco, we find a very interesting and curious connection between many different national parks. And this is the captain of the ship, Captain Cassin Young.

Well, Cassin Young was known for his actions at Pearl Harbor, where he was instrumental in the rescue of his ship called USS Vestal, which was a repair ship that was alongside the USS Arizona when it exploded. And he received the Medal of Honor for his actions in saving the USS Vestal. He was later given command of the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco. But it was only a matter of days before the San Francisco entered battle and was killed.

Well, to recognize the loss of Cassin Young and the fact that she was a Medal of Honor recipient, it was customary in the Navy to name new ships, destroyers, after these people. And so he had one named after him, and that ship survives to this day in another US national park, Boston National Historical Park.

Today, visitors can board the USS Cassin Young for a look at a World War II destroyer. But between the Arizona Memorial, which is now another national park in Pearl Harbor and is closely related to the history of the Vestal repair ship, which Cassin Young commanded, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which has the memorial to that ship, Specifically Preserved here at San Francisco's Boston and Maritime National Historical Park, it's an incredible marriage of one person's World War II story.

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