Heroes: the U. S. Navy
"..."I was below the bow under the gun loading area. The ship lurched and shook violently, throwing us all to the deck. Water and debris rained down from the explosion for what seemed like an eternity..."
- Branch of Service: U. S. Navy
- Unit: USS Meredith, DD-726
- Dates: March 1943 - December 1945
- Location: Atlantic Theater; Pacific Theater
- Rank: S1C
- Birth Year: 1926
- Entered Service: Calumet City, IL
New Troy Navy Vet Recalls D-Day
Stan Dalka's nearly three-year hitch in the navy during World War II literally took him around the world. He served on three different ships and saw action in both Europe and the Pacific before being discharged at age 19 in December 1945. Some details of those experiences have faded with the years, but every time the month of June rolls around, Stan vividly recalls one event that remains starkly etched in his memory: The Allied Invasion of Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
As I sipped coffee with Stan at the kitchen table of the comfortable home he shares with his wife, Jackie, outside of New Troy, he gazed down and slowly shook his head, recalling those events of more than six decades ago. "I could hardly wait for my birthday to arrive," he mused. After pestering his dad for weeks, Stan had finally talked him into giving his permission to join the navy. When he turned 17 on March 12, 1943, they both went down to the recruiting station and signed the papers.
After being sworn in three days later, he was sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Center for nine weeks of boot camp. Stan had no way of knowing at the time, but this was the beginning of an odyssey that 15 months later would place him within the largest armada of ships and men ever assembled.
After boot camp Stan was sent to gunnery school at Gulf Port, Mississippi to train as an armed guard on merchant ships. His first assignment was the liberty ship S.S. Childress, which joined a convoy in New York Harbor and sailed for Manchester England. They hadn't been at sea for very long when Stan got his first glimpse of the war. "One night the entire sky lit up like the 4th of July. We never did find out for certain what caused that explosion, but there was little doubt that a German U-boat had torpedoed one of our tankers in the convoy. Many of the ships scattered, including ours, separating us from the convoy, and we proceeded to make our way to England on our own."
After the Childress was unloaded in Manchester she was immediately reloaded with war materiel and was again underway. After a short stopover in Italy she proceeded to Algiers, the cargo's final destination. The Childress remained in Algiers for a couple of weeks before joining a convoy headed back to the States. By now winter had set in and shipboard life was cold and miserable as they slowly made their way across the stormy North Atlantic. Finally arriving in Baltimore the crew was given a 15-day leave.
Stan was then ordered to Boston where he reported aboard the newly commissioned destroyer, U.S.S. Meredith. After a shakedown cruise to Bermuda, they brought Meredith back to Boston where she was assigned to escort a convoy to Plymouth England. The crossing was uneventful and they arrived in late May 1944. Around the 29th of May, Meredith's captain, Commander George Knuepfer, received a briefing for Operation Neptune and was assigned as Escort Commander of Convoy U-3 which consisted of 16 LSTs and six Rhinos, the whole convoy containing about 7500 troops.
The Meredith started out on June 5th, the day before D-Day, from Torquay, England and made its way across the English Channel to the invasion coast. Stan says the sight of those thousands of ships making the crossing was something he never dreamed of seeing. German E-boats were patrolling the channel, and because the Meredith could steam no faster than the slowest ship in the convoy, the crossing to the French coast was very hazardous. The E-boats were roughly equivalent to the American motor torpedo (PT) boat, only they were faster, larger and more lethal. Their sole mission was to torpedo and sink as many allied ships as possible before they reached the landing area.
Arriving near the French coast off Normandy, the Meredith along with five other destroyers began screening the troop transports that were stationed offshore. They remained on this screening patrol, searching for E-Boats, until about six o'clock in the morning of the following day (D-Day). They were then assigned to a gun support area about a mile and a half off the coast, just to the eastward of the boat lane through which allied troops were passing to the beach.
"We fired our five-inch guns from coordinates radioed to us from the beach," Stan recalls. "We were told the majority of our targets were enemy tank and troop concentrations closing on our troops, and reports were received back that our aim was very effective." Meredith continued fire support from this position all day and throughout the following day, June 7. Just before midnight Meredith was ordered to proceed to the northward of the heavy ships stationed in their gun support areas and screen them against E-boats.
At about 1:52 on the morning of June 8, while patrolling an area approximately five miles from the Island of Marcouf, Meredith struck a submerged mine. "All hell broke loose," recalls Stan. "I was below the bow under the gun loading area. The ship lurched and shook violently, throwing us all to the deck. Water and debris rained down from the explosion for what seemed like an eternity. All I remember is hearing the order to abandon ship, and the next thing I knew a sub chaser picked us up and transported us to the heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa." Stan says he was among the lucky ones. He learned later that 35 fellow Meredith crewmen had been killed and another 26 were severely burned or otherwise injured, several having lost one or more limbs.
Tuscaloosa remained on patrol, firing at numerous targets until she ran out of ammunition, then returned to Plymouth to re-supply and discharge the rescued sailors. Stan eventually caught a train from Plymouth to Glasgow Scotland where he spent a couple of weeks before returning to the States on the liner Queen Elizabeth, which had been converted to a troop ship.
The Meredith's sinking didn't end Stan's naval career, but it certainly marked its defining moment. He served for another 18 months, mostly in the Pacific on the Patrol Craft #1569, chasing Japanese subs and performing carrier escort duty.
As an interesting side note, about two years ago the History Channel's Deep Sea Detectives series featured an investigation as to whether the Meredith actually struck a mine. This investigation was fueled by a long-time speculation that she may have sailed into the path of a torpedo or been struck by a top-secret German glide bomb. The investigation was inconclusive and, as Stan says, "It really doesn't matter; our ship went down."
Stan Dalka would adamantly disagree with this, because he considers his service as just a normal duty that had to be done at the time, but there's no question in this writer's mind that he is a true American hero who selflessly stepped forward when his country needed him. Thanks, Stan.
A very special THANK YOU is extended to BOTH Mr. Stan Dalka and Mr. Tom McCort for their kind and generous permission to use the materials contained on this web page. Stories such as this story go a long way in preserving yet another piece of the overall picture that was World War II.
Some web sites that are about the U.S.S. Meredith (DD-726) and related material:
Welcome Aboard the USS Meredith (DD-726)
Destroyer Photo Index DD-726 -- USS Meredith
USS Meredith: Information from Answers.com
Original Story submitted 24 May 2007.