CL-41 Tribute Home

USS Philadelphia
1st Person Memories
by Russ Simpson (17 June 2009)


Dear Dan,
This letter is in response to your note about the loss of Wm Ryan and Lt Cahill. Perhaps I can add a story that may be of some interest to someone.

Your note indicated the shot-down data was “back in 1943.” The correct date was Aug 1944 near the French Naval Base, Toulon, So. France. I understand they were hit by a German 88mm AA gun.

I didn’t know Ryan really well, but we were introduced by one of the other aviation radiomen that had once worked in main radio with me. I went aboard the Philly in Oct 1941 about 2 mo. Before Pearl Harbor. 3 particular radiomen (RM) were there some months before me. In early 1942 these 3 applied for aviation, passed local tests, then transferred to the AV school in Memphis, TN for about 6 mo – back to the ship and started flying. The 3 were Doug Pearson, Fred Gibson and Heimer. Pearson lost his life during the invasion of So Sicily about 9 July 1943. He was in an SOC float plane that had been to seaward on a 4 hour anti-sub patrol. They had just returned to the coast line and headed in our direction when they were jumped by a ME-109 (German Fighter). The plane crashed in shallow water and the army advised the ship that they had recovered the bodies. The pilot was the division senior aviator LCDR Stephenson. Pearson was RM1 – terrible loss of 2 sharp aviators.

Heimer lost his life in a training accident off Norfolk in May or June 1943. The plane, another SOC with 2 wings, came in for a set-down, bounced twice – nothing unusual for small float planes – then it bounced one 3rd time and flipped over. 2 orange may west life jackets were seen in the water. By the time it took to turn a long ship around – only one life jacket with the pilot was seen. The theory was that Heimer was probably injured and could not help himself. Each man had to activate a small C-0-2 cartridge that provided the gas to inflate the empty life jacket. A search was negative.

Another reason I did not know Ryan well was because around April 1944 I was sent to an advanced school for RADAR repair in Norfolk. They didn’t get me back aboard the Philly until Dec. 44, so I wasn’t there when he was lost.

Let’s go fast forward to Sept 1987 when we had a ship reunion at Columbia MD. We had a lone day bus tour to the Phila Navy yard – that included a limited tour of an aircraft carrier. We were roaming around on the high flight deck when someone introduced me to Ryan’s Father (actually Ryan's Brother*). He said he wanted to talk to those that had known his son. I explained that I didn’t know him very well but we could talk about the communication links between the ship and planes aloft. I was the ship operator during many flights – sometimes we used voice comm. And other times used Morse Code for the many exercises we had to perfect a lost plane procedure; using a radio direction finder and coordinating the whole thing by phone with the ship’s navigator.

I am glad to say that Mr. Ryan Sr. and I had a lengthy and meaningful discussion. It meant a lot to me also!

So the ship’s score for WWII was five men lost, all aviators, 2 pilots and 3 RM.

Dan, you may show this to anyone you wish. Since I had 39 years federal service, perhaps I should break that down for the record. That’s 22 years Navy and 17 years as a civilian action officer on the Army staff.

Based on the first post WWII world-wide written exam, I made Chief Radioman on 1 June 1949 and later, after another navy wide written exam I was promoted to Master Chief Radioman on 16 Nov 1958 with the first group promoted to E-9 grade.

With 3 great Navy technical schools and 12 years combat ship experience, I became one of the top men on the Army staff in Radio Frequency Engineering, allocation, assignment and Management. I retired at 57 on 29 Feb 1980.

Now 86 years 6 months.

Russ Simpson

(Transcribed from original handwritten copy by Eileen Backofen)

* Correction made by Lois Heist, Bill Ryan's niece