Welcome to the Point Honda Memorial web site designed in honor of the 23 sailors who perished in an accident on Sept. 8, 1923, when seven U. S. Navy Destroyers attached to Destroyer Squadron Eleven were stranded at Point Honda, California.
The survivors, kin, friends, and interested parties have four secondary sources to read as they search for the facts concerning this accident. These books, written many years after the accident, leave questions unanswered, and are either out of print or difficult to locate in public libraries.
The primary source documents, which reported on the circumstances surrounding this accident, and the trials by General Court Martial, are stored in the National Archives, Washington, DC. These extensive records are available to the general public at a cost. If you order them by mail, the cost is $10 for the first 20 pages and $5 for each additional block of 20 pages. If you go to the National Archives for the records, you pay only the copying cost. The records of the Court of Inquiry and the General Courts Martial of several of the officers are contained in over 1000 pages and filed under Record Group 125 (Boxes 349 & 350), Records of the Judge Advocate General (Navy).
If you are searching for photos, maps, or documents on the accident, and want to hire the services of a private research firm in the Washington, DC area, click on Sunshine Historical Research and send an email requesting assistance.
Additional historical information on the destroyers that stranded at Point Honda can be obtained from the USS Salem web site. It can be reached by surfing through the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships of the Modern Era (post-1880s) and then selecting Destroyers. The listing appears with DD numbers for each destroyer. These numbers are available on the Navy Destroyers page on this web site. And if you desire to see some original photographs of the wrecks, click on the "Disaster at Honda" link.
An article entitled 9-TURN, Complete Narrative of the Destroyer Disaster at Honda Head, which appeared in the Naval Weekly, San Diego, California, contains an introduction that attempts to describe the complex causes of this accident.
"Graphic accounts of the conduct of the officers and men of the United States Navy at Honda, both previous and subsequent to the fatal disaster on September 8, 1923, have failed to enlighten the darkness which swathes the causes behind the navigation which sent the Pacific destroyer squadron many miles off its course.
With the fault of perhaps an excessive speed under the meteorological conditions which prevailed, there is in the mind of every naval officer who was navigating that fateful night, a great belief that natural causes beyond their control contributed to the disaster. Countless runs down the Pacific coast under identical conditions have been made by naval vessels always with safety. Countless times have the destroyer force navigators drilling their crews to the smashing emergencies of real war, swept their vessels over these same waters, estimated these same currents, always with safe arrival at the home port.
Regardless of the official explanation of the disaster, there were elements present which will always remain dark, which could not be explained by any officer before any court, and which tempers the responsibility placed so heavily upon Captain Edward H. Watson, the commander of the Eleventh Destroyer Squadron, one of the navy's most experienced navigators, whose father before him was navigator for Admiral David Farragut in the Civil War."
When we began our search for survivors in early 1998, two were found: Harry C. Crawford, Fireman Third Class, USS FARRAGUT and Gene Bruce, Seaman Second Class, USS CHAUNCEY. Harry was 94 years old and Gene was 91.
Harry and his wife, Eva, from Forest Grove, OR, attended the 61st anniversary at Point Honda on September 8, 1984. Harry's ship, sixth in the column of fourteen, managed to escape the jinns at Honda on the fatal night with only minor damage, although, all five ships ahead of the column, and the seventh ship, were grounded and lost to salvage. The skillful seamanship of LtCmdr. John F. McClain, Captain of the FARRAGUT, saved the crew and ship to steam another day.
Harry and his two sons, Ted Sr. and Charles, and his grandson, Ted Jr., attended the 75th memorial service at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Sept. 8, 1998. At that time, I told Harry that if he were to leave us for a cruise to the hereafter, he must remember to tell the sailors from Squadron Eleven all about the memorial service conducted in their honor by the Air Force and Navy at Vandenberg. He smiled and said he would. Harry passed away on August 28, 1999 at the age of 95, but he's still with us in spirit.
Gene Bruce, at the age of 93, is our last known survivor. Gene and his wife, Anne, also attended the 61st and 75th anniversaries at Point Honda. This is after Gene told everyone that he would never go back to that desolate coast again. He was on the CHAUNCEY when it ran into the exposed prop of the overturned YOUNG and was ripped open from stem to stern as it sped for the rocks. And as Gene told it, " Little did we know that we were about to plow into California real estate." The CHAUNCEY did not sink; it chose to make its home on the rocks for quite some time, before being battered into oblivion. Gene and Anne live in North Hollywood and are surrounded by a huge, loving family.
Mrs. Camille Overshiner, wife of the author of Course 095 to Eternity was at Vandenberg Air Force Base with her husband, Elwyn, for the 50th anniversary of the Pt. Honda accident, and placed a wreath at the anchor of the USS Chauncey, overlooking Woodbury Rock. Mr. Elwyn E. Overshiner lost his 18-yr. old brother, Gordon, in the accident. Elwyn was only 12 years old at the time. Mrs. Overshiner also attended the 60th, 61st and 75th memorial services at Vandenberg AFB.
While on his maiden voyage from San Francisco to San Diego, Gordon J. Overshiner, Fireman Third Class, USN, from San Jose, California, was entombed in the bowels of the USS YOUNG when she turned over on her side shortly after hitting the rocks. Gordon was on duty in the fireroom at the time. According to a Republican A. P. Leased Wire, a few days after the accident, deep-sea divers with torches cut into the YOUNG and freed Gordon's body.
While reading the Tragedy at Honda, I discovered the possibility that one of Gordon's shipmates, August Zakrzewski, Fireman Second Class, USN, from Omaha, Nebraska, could be my distant cousin. He was in charge of the fireroom watch when the YOUNG turned over on her side. August perished in the accident, however, it is not known if he was trapped inside the YOUNG, or if his body washed ashore. The surviving kin, who now live in O'Neill, Nebraska, verified that August's name was listed on their family tree and that he was 21 years old when he died on Sept. 8, 1923 while serving in the U. S. Navy. They did not know that August died at Pt. Honda, and were unaware of the books which were written about the accident.
Author and publisher, Joe Silva, in his Honda Left Turn 095, describes the 60th and 61st anniversary ceremonies which took place on September 8, 1983 and September 8, 1984, respectively, at the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building in Lompoc, California. A screw propeller from the DELPHY, retrieved by divers, was dedicated at the 60th anniversary, while a plaque honoring the survivors was dedicated at the 61st anniversary.
Those survivors present were:
Those survivors not present, but accounted for:
At the 61st ceremony, Captain Gerald Fulk, USN, Commanding Officer, Naval Ship Weapons Systems Engineering Office, Port Hueneme, CA, told approximately 150 people that the screw propeller from the DELPHY dedicated in 1983 in the courtyard of the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building 'honors all destroyer men', and the plaque dedicated in 1984 'will remind future generations of the courage, heroism and honor of the crews'.
At the 75th memorial service, which took place at Point Honda, Vandenberg Air Force Base, on Sept. 8, 1998, at the site overlooking the wrecks, a plaque donated by the Lompoc Valley Historical Society was dedicated. It lists the names of the 23 sailors who perished at Point Honda on that fateful night on Sept. 8, 1923.
Air Force and Navy personnel, under the skillful direction of Chaplain Colonel Stephen L. Frick, USAF, Honda Point Project Officer, participated in a program which included an invocation; reading of the scriptures; meditation by Chaplain Lt. Ronald P. Stake, USNR, from Pt. Mugu, CA; singing of the Navy Hymn by Chaplain Capt. Patrick A. Genseal, USAF; reading of the names of the deceased; a navy honor guard which rendered a rifle salute; a bugler who played taps; and a bagpiper, Mr. Laird Hail, who played "Amazing Grace" while a helicopter dropped a wreath into the Pacific, between Woodbury Rock and the shore.
An excellent photographic feat was accomplished by Robert Schwemmer, Shipwreck Historian from the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, when he took the photo of the memorial service being held at Pt. Honda. On the far left, the U. S. Navy Honor Guard, dressed in whites, is firing their rifles and rendering the traditional gun salute. Standing at the far right, and also dressed in whites, is Navy Chaplain Stake, and standing in front of the rostrum is Air Force Chaplain Genseal, Officer in Charge. The anchor of the USS Chauncey, the destroyer that grounded on California real estate with Gene Bruce aboard, is visible in front of the audience and to the left of the rostrum. The photo was recently donated to the Pt. Honda Memorial web site by Robert Schwemmer. Thank you, Robert; the photo is now posted for all to see and enjoy.
I am pleased to announce that Robert contributed another photo to this web site. It is a picture of Laird Hail, our 75th service bagpiper, standing at the cliffs overlooking the site of the wrecks, while Woodbury Rock sits menacingly in the background. This is indeed a super photo of a distinguished gentleman who volunteered his time to join us in the service; thank you Robert.
One outcome of the 75th memorial service was the discovery that a historical marker was needed. Chaplain Colonel Frick rose to the occasion and had the Air Force engineers build one. Visitors to the base who travel to South Vandenberg in search of Honda Point (as named by the Air Force) will be able to see the marker from their cars. Make sure to ask the sentry at the gate for directions to the site. It's a long ride through barren land dotted with abandoned launch pads.
If you are a survivor, kin, friend or an interested party, please send feedback and let me know if you would like to be included in the "Pt. Honda Watch" database and receive a newsletter on Pt. Honda topics.
Web site links to the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base and to the Chamber of Commerce in Lompoc, California are provided for those who may be searching for more information about the area. Maps, local history, restaurants, hotels/motels, activities, and visitor's information are available.