Lt Cmdr “Ace” Edmands
Allan Christie Edmands, Jr
ALLAN CHRISTIE (“Ace”) EDMANDS, Sr., was born 10 June 1911 in Saugus, Massachusetts. He grew up in nearby Andover, graduating high school in 1929 and enlisting in the Navy. He soon became a candidate for officer’s training and was enrolled at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating in 1935 and commissioned as an Ensign. In 1937, he married Mary Anna Hawes; they had three children: (Mary) Christine (1938), Allan Christie (1942), and Anna Jane (“Janna,” 1944). Allan earned his “wings” from flight school in Pensacola in 1940, making his nickname “Ace” even more appropriate.
Ace was stationed with his family at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, serving as a Lieutenant on the light cruiser Astoria. When the Japanese attacked, the Astoria was out at sea. His family was sent back to the mainland in April 1942, but Ace needed to stay on and fight the war. He flew missions in battles at the Coral Sea, Midway, Savo Island (where he was wounded and where the Astoria was sunk), and Tarawa. In one battle report, he confided to his captain that he wasn’t sure how he would react at the sight of blood and gore: “I found out before the night was over. . . . I was amazed I wasn’t more scared, but things happen so fast there isn’t time.”
In June 1944, as a Lieutenant Commander, Ace became skipper of Torpedo Squadron 5, and began training his men on TBM Avenger torpedo bombers. In January 1945, the squadron joined the aircraft carrier Franklin, which sailed as part of a huge task force for the final assault on the Japanese home islands, an assault expected to take up to a year and cost several hundred thousand American casualties. Missions against Kyushu targets began on 18 March, when the Franklin was within 60 miles of Japan.
On the morning of 19 March, Ace and his squadron were warming up their engines, preparing for a run on the strategic port of Kobe. A single Japanese bomber emerged from the clouds and dropped two 550-pound armor-piercing bombs on the Franklin. The two explosions were only the beginning; they ignited aviation fuel lines, bombs, rockets, and other ordnance aboard the ship, killing nearly a thousand men—Ace among them. Amazingly, the Franklin, the war’s most heavily damaged ship that did not sink, made a 12,000-mile trip home to Brooklyn with a skeleton crew of 710. (Other survivors had been forced off, or blown off, the ship by the raging conflagration, and they returned to the States on other vessels.)
I am ALLAN CHRISTIE EDMANDS, Jr., born 9 June 1942, a day before Ace’s 31st birthday, just after his flying missions in the Battle of Midway. I never knew my father. To me as a child, he was a ghost hero, without whom, I was convinced, we could not have won the war. I was told that he had not regarded himself as a hero, that he had always said he was just doing his job. What a job! He was a hero to me nonetheless, a hero killed in action just before the war’s end. It was obvious that he had been killed, but we never had a funeral, never saw a body, never had a gravestone—so how could we know for sure? Ace had sent a Valentine’s Day letter from Hawaii just before cruising into the war zone. My mother continued sending letters to his “fleet” address—VT5, c/o Fleet P.O., San Francisco, California—just as though he were residing in a pleasant American city. The letters would eventually be returned unopened and unread.
On 16 April, the Chief of Naval Personnel sent my mother an unwelcome telegram that her husband was “missing” and that she must not aid the enemy by divulging the name of his ship. The Navy Department appreciated her great anxiety, “BUT DETAILS NOT NOW AVAILABLE AND DELAY IN RECEIPT THEREOF MUST NECESSARILY BE EXPECTED.” Later that month she received a letter from the squadron’s exec officer stating that Ace had been forced over the side in the conflagrations and was “not seen after that.” He also stated that Ace’s ring (which he had not been able to remove from his finger) and his dog tags (which he never would have been without) had been retrieved “from his room” and would be sent to her as soon as possible (I have them now).
In October the Navy Department sent another telegram: “A CAREFUL REVIEW OF ALL FACTS AVAILABLE RELATING TO THE DISAPPEARANCE OF YOUR HUSBAND LIEUTENANT COMMANDER ALLAN CHRISTIE EDMANDS USN PREVIOUSLY REPORTED MISSING LEADS TO THE CONCLUSION THAT THERE IS NO HOPE FOR HIS SURVIVAL AND THAT HE LOST HIS LIFE AS RESULT OF ENEMY ACTION ON 19 MARCH 1945 WHILE IN THE SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY.” My mother fell apart with this news, sent with official “deep regret” and “sincerest sympathy.” She gave baby Janna away to her friend and fled home with Christine and me to her parents. I saw Janna only four brief times when we were children.
Though my mother later remarried a fine man, she told me about Ace, even nurturing the fantasy (acknowledged as a remote possibility) that he might still be alive. I fantasized that he had survived the explosions and been captured by the Japanese, that he would escape and return wearing his clean pressed Navy blues, not having aged a day. My sisters entertained similar fantasies. Meanwhile, I was groomed for Annapolis, to follow in Ace’s footsteps; I received an appointment in 1960, but unfortunately I lacked the required 20/20 vision.
Over the years, I’ve learned more about Ace. For example, my aunt told me about his mischievous sense of humor: At a family dinner she handed her plate to Ace and asked for another helping of mashed potatoes and gravy. “How much?” he asked. “Just a little bit,” she said. He very delicately put on her plate an eighth of a teaspoon of potatoes, topped it with a drop of gravy, and handed the plate back.
I now realize that Ace’s ring and dog tags must have been retrieved from his remains, which were then buried at sea. The squadron’s exec officer, claiming these items had been found “in his room,” had wanted to shield my mother from the gruesome details. After retiring from IBM in 2002, I located survivors of the Franklin, including men in Ace’s squadron. One had witnessed the explosion that blew Ace off the ship and killed him. Another told me of Ace in life: “If he didn’t have his uniform on, you’d swear he wasn’t an officer. He always talked to us like a regular guy.”
In June 2003, I attended a reunion of Franklin survivors and learned more details about Ace. I encourage other war orphans to attend such reunions; not only will you fill gaps in your understanding, you will likely help survivors with their long-enduring “survivor’s guilt.”