AUGUST 24, 1942: Baptism of Fire – the Battleship’s first battle engagement

The Battleship’s first crew member killed in action was George E. Conlon on August 24, 1942. Seaman Mike Marko detailed in his diary, “Time is now 1740. I am now looking at wounded man to see if I know him. Boy that hole is through his life jacket and through him and out his life jacket. It’s horrible! Now giving him morphine. They’ve rigged up a bottle of blood plasma and are giving him a transfusion. The man is very white from the lack of blood. It puts the fear of God into a man to see things like this. Good looking boy just married to a beautiful gal just before we left Fresno. Stand by for another air attack at 1555. False alarm. The man has just now died.”

-Mike Marko

At the end of September Conlon’s widow, Georgina, wrote Captain Fort “thank you for your letter of sympathy. It was a great shock to me. He was a grand boy and I know everyone loved him that knew him. God bless you and all your boys. There is nothing that can beat Our Navy, and I’m mighty proud of my husband.”

Crewmember Art Hahn drew this drawing of a Japanese plane during the battle. A piece of the plane’s fabric is part of the drawing’s fuselage.

“The engagement only lasted seven minutes. It seemed like hours at the time. I remember talking to the men in my division in the starboard battery. The seamen were manning these machine guns — 50 calibers and 20mm, and they were the most excited and proud people. They fought like they had knocked down every single plane in the ocean. We were all claiming having shot down about 350 aircraft, and really there were only about 75. The Japanese did suffer a terrible loss that afternoon. But we became men. The maturity of our seamen and our officers after that, the change in maturity and attitude and way we approached problems, was entirely different. We had grown up in seven minutes.”

-Rear Admiral Julian T. Burke, USN (Ret)

Empty 5-inch shell cases littered the ship’s decks following the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on August 24, 1942.

“The really funny thing happened right after the shoot. There were brass cartridges everywhere, which had to be picked up, and new ammo brought up to ‘get ready for the next attack’ which thankfully didn’t materialize. Apparently our air strike had caused sufficient damage so that the enemy couldn’t launch a second strike either. Peace and quiet returned as bedlam left. Abruptly, one of the seaman gunners named Tony, an Italian from Upstate New York, straightened up and cried out, ‘Jeepers creepers, my enlistment expires today!’ The bosun’s mate chided him, ‘Now Tony, relax, you know you’re going to ship over (re-enlist)!’ Tony replied, somewhat tenaciously, ‘The XXX I am, I can still smell the XXX on the plow!’ That really broke the tension. Sailors were laughing and rolling on the deck. There we were, about 10,000 miles from Tony’s farm, in the bright blue Pacific, South that is, having just survived a major air attack.’ I guess we all thought more of home and family later that bright sunny afternoon!”

-Captain Edward F. Gallagher, USN (Ret)

Burial at sea of George Conlon, AMM3/c, who was killed in action during the Battle of Eastern Solomons. He was a gunner on a 20mm starboard side gun when he was hit.

“All of a sudden all hell broke loose…you could see these dive-bombers coming down on the ENTERPRISE. It was hit. All of a sudden, the planes were coming our way and attack us. I think that it was just a matter of minutes…a total of about eight minutes of action. It’s the old story about it being like an eternity. A couple of things stand out to me very clearly. One Japanese plane went down the side of the ship. Again this was the first new battleship they had seen out there. He was just staring at it. I could see his eyes, and I could see his face; and he was just trying to get a fix. I think what he wanted to do was hope he would get away and report exactly what the ship looked like. He was very close, close enough to see his face; and all of a sudden, he got hit. I think one of the 20mm got him.”

-Larry Resen, Firecontrolman 1/c