USS Panamint AGC-13: A family World War II veteran history

It was a privilege to learn about important World War II naval history from my brother in law, William L’Heureux, 92, who lives in Longmeadow, Mass. We were fortunate to hear, first hand, about his participation in World War II, during his recent visit to Maine.

William L'Heureux was a sailor during World War II when he witnessed the events while serving on the Panamint

USS Panamint Memorial poster-certificate

He shared with us a stack of saved photographs kept from the time he served in the US Navy, during and after World War II. Moreover, his service aboard the USS Panamint AGC-13, Flagship 13, during 1945, was a conversation loaded with accounts of witnessing historic events.  Because my husband Richard is a retired US Navy Master Chief and a Vietnam War veteran, he and his brother shared their rare experiences about serving on several different ships.

William L'Heureux and Richard L'Heureux

William L’Heureux (left) of Longmeadow Massachusetts and Richard L’Heureux of Topsham, ME, brothers and Navy veterans.

My brother in law or “Uncle Bill”, was born in Sanford. He grew up speaking French at home with his parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and four siblings.  In fact, he continues to speak fluent French whenever he has an opportunity to do so. As a matter of fact, he’s always on the look out to find French books to read.  At the time of our September 2018 visit, he had just finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man in the Sea”, in French.

In 1945, Bill was a sailor stationed aboard the USS Panamint.  In fact, the ship was the flagship of Rear Admiral Lawrence F. Reifsnider, Commander Amphibious Group 4. It was the Flagship that participated in the Battle of Okinawa, the last major battle of World War II. The battle to invade Okinawa began on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. Additionally, the Panamint was also the flagship that participated in the surrender of Northern Japan.  Bill was stationed on the ship during these events.

During combat, the Panamint was among ships that were subjected to suicide Kamikaze attacks launched by the Japanese. On May 6, 1945,  a Kamikaze approached the Panamint from the starboard beam. Panamint and her sister ships began anti-aircraft firing that proved effective. The attacking pilot overshot Panamint, splashing 1500 yards off her port bow. Nevertheless, other sister ships in the fleet incurred heavy damage and loss of life during a series of attacks during this assault. Bill has a vivid recollection of the attack. “I recall saying to myself at the time, ‘it seems that dying is going to be easy’. But then, the airplane overshot its target.”

Having been spared any direct hits by Kamikaze attacks or torpedoes, might be the reason the Panamint had the nickname, the “The Lucky 13”.

Another witnessed event happened when the famous war journalist Ernie Pyle was transported to the Battle of Okinawa, on board the Panamint.  Tragically, Pyle was killed on April 18, 1945, in Okinawa.  A decades long mystery involved the whereabouts of a photograph taken of Pyle after he was killed.  Two prints were kept as souvenirs by veterans who served aboard Panamint. They showed up again in 2008 and were given to the Newseum, in Washington.

Equator crossing and memorabilia from the USS Panamint World War II

Memorabilia from the USS Panamint AGC-13 during World War II saved by William L’Heureux who was a sailor stationed on the communications ship.

Included in the package of World War II memorabilia was documentation about the Panamint’s February 5, 1945 equator crossing. It’s a tradition for Navy personnel to conduct initiation ceremonies for the sailors and crews during this special oceanic crossing.  A highly organized series of rituals are performed in the presence of “Neptunis Rex” (King Neptune).  Documentation about the crossings are recorded in the Navy personnel’s official military service records. Most of the rituals are directed to personnel who are “green backs”, meaning, their first equator crossing. “For the most part, the USS Panamint’s crew were as green and as pale a lot of lubberly pollywogs as ever fouled a line,” is how the February 5th crossing was reported in the ship’s program booklet.

A cruise book photograph documents the return of  prisoner of war Lt. Col. James Devereaux, He was a defender of The Battle of Wake Island, during attacks that occurred simultaneously during the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor.

Defender of Wake Island released from Japanese prison camp

Lt. Colonel Devereaux was a Japanese prisoner of war and he later was elected as a United States Congressman from Maryland.

USS Panamint (AGC-13) was an amphibious force command ship named after the Panamint mountain range in California. She was a floating command post with advanced communications equipment to be used by the amphibious forces and landing force commanders during large-scale operations.

Bill also served on the USS Philippine Sea CV47 and the USS Bennington CV 20 during his Navy career.

This historic veterans conversation with my brother in law and a selection his personal memorabilia will be included with the information being archived about Franco-American veterans at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn Campus (USM LAC), in the Franco-American Collection. A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities supported this special collection of Franco-American veterans histories.

USS Panamint AGC-13 was named after a California mountain range

USS Panamint AGC-13 post card from the World War II collection saved by William L’Heureux (L’Heureux photograph)

Contact https://usm.maine.edu/franco  or call 207-753-6545 for more information.

Merci. Thank you William L’Heureux and Richard L’Heureux, for your service to the US Navy. A special salute to my husband Richard. “Welcome Home!”.

 

 

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.