Friday, May 27, 2011

Remembering a Longmont Naval Hero and the Ship Named after Him

by Peter Schow 

A Memorial Day story about a mostly forgotten Longmont hero, Bert Edmonds.

Sixty-eight years ago , the U S Navy commissioned a ship named after Navy aviation ordinanceman first-class Bert C. Edmonds, a Longmont native and Longmont High School graduate who was killed in action in the Solomon Islands during World War II. The ship, a Navy destroyer escort, went on to receive five battle stars for World War II service and two more in the Korean War.

Bert Edmonds was born in Longmont on March 21, 1919. In 1937, at the age of 18, he went to Denver to enlist in the Navy. His four brothers, including his twin, Robert, also served in the Navy during World War II. 
In August of 1942, the U. S. Marine 1st Division landed on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific, beginning a long seven-month battle with the Japanese. Both sides were fighting for occupation of a weedy and bomb-cratered airstrip, later named Henderson Field, which was controlled by U. S. forces the second day they arrived.  Air combat was a daily event in maintaining possession of the airstrip, along with naval battles, and a ground attack that met endless rain, mud, and malaria.

Edmonds was a member of the 1st Marine Division as an air crewman in the famous Torpedo Squadron Eight, which had been almost entirely eliminated earlier at the Battle of Midway in June of 1942. He reported to Guadalcanal on September 28, 1942 and participated in over 50 attack missions on a three-seat torpedo bomber made by Grumman, called the TBF Avenger. He was killed in action shortly thereafter on October 16 and was awarded the Silver Star medal posthumously. The Longmont community learned of his death a month and a half later, in a December 2 newspaper article. At that time, he was the tenth local serviceman to be killed or missing in the war. An article appearing in the Longmont Times on December 11, 1943 provided the citation given to Edmonds:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as air bomber and tunnel gunner while serving with torpedo squadron eight during action against the Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands from September 28 to October 16, 1942. Flying under extremely adverse conditions, Edmonds, by his courageous and skillful performance of duty in the face of severe opposition, contributed greatly to successful achievements of torpedo squadron eight during numerous attack missions.”

USS Edmonds DE-406
In honor of Edmonds’ heroics at Guadalcanal, a navy destroyer escort USS Edmonds DE-406, was christened and launched at a ceremony in Houston on December 17, 1943 at the shipyard of the Brown Shipbuilding Company. Edmonds’ mother, Mrs. Fathe Edmonds was designated by the Secretary of the Navy to be the sponsor at the christening. The ceremony was attended by two hundred navy and ship building personnel, including the company band of the shipbuilder, which conducted a short concert during the program. A few days later in a Longmont Times article, she described her experience in Houston as “They were just grand to me all the time."  The shipyard workers returned the christening champagne bottle to Mrs. Edmonds in a painted wooden box, and she also received an orchid corsage wired from the Longmont Army-Navy Mothers Club.  

Wikipedia has the full account of the impressive long life of the USS Edmonds DE-406, serving in three wars, starting with Pearl Harbor in 1943 and ending in reserve in the northern Bay Area California area until the early 70's. 

 A few notes on this story:
Veterans Day Parade, Longmont, 2007
  1. Some of the Edmonds relatives are still in the Longmont area, including Bert's first cousin once-removed.  I sent this article to them a few years ago and they were happy to read it.

  2. Longmont American Legion Post 32 certainly hasn't forgotten Bert Edmonds.  I'm told he is featured prominently in the shrine at their hall.  At Longmont parades, you'll see their USS Edmonds model (see picture above).

  3. I actually wrote this in 2002 and tried unsuccessfully to get it published in a few places because not many knew about Bert Edmonds.   Nearly ten years later, look how easy it is to publish something!

  4. When the City of Longmont solicited names for the new Stephen Day Park a few years ago, I submitted Bert Edmond's name as a candidate, along with this story.

  5. Bert Edmonds is humbly buried in the Mountain View Cemetary in Longmont, I believe next to his mother.  On Monday (Memorial Day), you'll see a flag next to his grave.