Museum receives World War II UDT uniform

By Erica A. Holthausen
Development &
May 20, 2009 6:00 AM

Community Relations

The collections at the Museums of Old York are tangible links to the history of our community. Each object preserves the story of a particular individual, family or local business. A hand-made crib can tie together multiple generations of a family and reveals the common threads that run throughout the community and tie it to the larger world.

Take, for example, the World War II military uniform donated to the museum earlier this month. In many ways, it is much like the dress uniforms worn by today's servicemen and women. This one, however, was worn by Carlton E. Andrews (1926-2007) — and it tells the story of an ordinary young man from York whose military service earned him membership in the "greatest generation."

A decorated veteran of the World War, Andrews served as a member of the Navy's Underwater Demolition Team, the forerunner of today's Navy SEALs. After the aborted landing attempt on the beach of Gallipoli during World War I, the U.S. military recognized the importance of properly preparing an amphibious landing site. However, it took a catastrophe on the South Pacific island of Tarawa before the military fully appreciated the importance and potential of special forces such as the UDTs.

The islands in the South Pacific are characterized by dramatic tide changes and shallow reefs that are virtually invisible by air surveillance. The invasion of Tarawa started on Nov. 20, 1943. While an initial wave of Marines successfully landed on the beach, the second wave was stuck on a reef left exposed as the tide shifted. Those left on the reef had to unload their transport vessel and wade to shore; many never made it out of the water. On the beach, the first wave of Marines, left without reinforcements, were easy targets for the enemy and suffered massive casualties. The devastating defeat was a valuable lesson, reinforcing the importance of preparing not just a landing site, but also the approach.

Members of the Army, Marines, Scouts and Raiders as well as Naval Combat Demolitions Teams were hastily brought together to train for an attack on Kwajalein on Jan. 31, 1944. To gather intelligence, both night and day reconnaissance missions were ordered. These missions were to follow standard procedure, and teams were to approach the beach in full fatigues, boots, life jackets and metal helmets. When the coral reef made it impossible for the small reconnaissance boat to pass, two members of the team stripped to their underwear and swam undeterred across the reef. They returned with sketches of the gun emplacements and other vital intelligence. As a result of their decision, combat swimming became an essential element of training for the UDT.

In April 1944, following the success at Kwajalein, the UDT created the Naval Combat Demolition Training and Experimental Base in Hawaii, where they pioneered combat swimming, closed-circuit diving, underwater demolitions and submersible operations. Eventually, 34 UDT teams were established. Wearing swim trunks, facemasks and fins — and armed only with mine detonators, hunting knives and a writing slate and pencil — these "Naked Warriors" saw action in every major amphibious landing in the Pacific. The first to set foot on an enemy island, the UDT prepared the way for the Marines to land. In the spirit of sibling rivalry, common to the Special Forces, UDT units frequently left gift cards for the invading troops. In stories to his family, Andrews recalled leaving a sign on the beach: "Welcome Marines — From the UDT."

In February 1945, UDT-15 was stationed aboard the destroyer USS Blessman. Andrews and his team members were sent to reconnoiter the beaches at Iwo Jima, and were among the first to set foot on the island. Although they reported heavy opposition on the beach, only one man was injured. A second reconnaissance mission was conducted that afternoon, with no injuries. The next day, the UDT suffered its greatest number of casualties when the USS Blessman was struck by a Japanese bomber. When the bomb exploded in the mess hall, 15 men on the UDT team were killed and 23 were injured. According to his family, Andrews did not talk about the war often but had shared that he had "a ship shot out from under him." What he did not tell them is that he survived what was by far the most tragic loss of life suffered by the UDT in the Pacific theater.

Six months later, his unit was one of the first to land at Hiroshima. Andrews was awarded the Bronze Star for "Heroic or Meritorious Achievement or Service" in leading the invasion of Hiroshima.

But for Andrews, perhaps his greatest honor was marching in the Memorial Day parade in York. He marched to honor those who served and those who never came home. For more than 50 years, starting in 1946, Carlton E. Andrews donned his uniform (which still fit!) and marched in York's Memorial Day parade.

Coming up

June 6: The Museums of Old York, including the Elizabeth Perkins House, Emerson-Wilcox House, Old Schoolhouse, John Hancock Warehouse and Old Gaol, will open for the museum's 109th season! 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
June 6: George Marshall Store Gallery exhibit opening. The main level gallery will show Tom Curry's "Coming to Light." Curry is a plein air painter committed to creating paintings that capture the sense of place, time and atmosphere of the Maine landscape. The dock level gallery will showcase "Still Points." The mysterious charcoal paintings by New York artist Charles Ramsburg are paired with porcelain forms made collaboratively by ceramic artist Maureen Mills and printmaker Victoria Elbroch. The opening reception takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the George Marshall Store Gallery, 140 Lindsay Road. The show runs through July 12.
June 12: Song Swap. Join fellow musicians and singers on the second Friday of each month to share your favorite songs and acoustic music. All are welcome to play their own or others' work. While the emphasis is on players, everyone is invited to attend whether to play, provide backup or simply listen from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Remick Barn Visitor Center, 3 Lindsay Road in York Village. The event is free for all, but donations are greatly appreciated.
June 20: Family Fun Saturday. Join us between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. for family tours of our historic buildings, traditional craft demonstrations, hearth cooking, colonial games and crafts for kids of all ages! It will be held at the Remick Barn on the corner of York Street and Lindsay Road. $20 for a family ($5 children, $10 adults and $9 seniors). No reservations required.