The USS Henderson got underway right after midnight Dec 7, 1941. We were in the the outer channel of Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. Their planes flew right over the top of us at 200 to 500 ft. We went to GQ (General Quarter) and were firing at the Jap planes with 50 cal machine guns, which we had (2) two, I was manning one of the 50s and the Henderson was credited with shooting down one Jap plane. We were also fired on by a small Jap sub at the entrance of Pearl Harbor.
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PEARL HARBOR - DEC. 7, 1941 The following is information surrounding the day that will live in infamy, from conversations I had with my father, Laurence Selbach. He was the only enlisted navy person (Gunner's Mate) on the USS Henderson a trans- port carrier. His captain a merchant seaman wanted to pull up anchor and leave Pearl Harbor on Dec.-6, but the command wouldn't let the Henderson leave until Dec.-7, so after midnight on Dec.-7 they pulled up anchor. After they pulled out another ship pulled into their spot next to the battleships. As stated in the hand written accounts by my father. They were in the outer channel of the harbor when General Quarters was called. At that time he was below deck. When he reached the 50 cal machine gun, there was a young kid frozen to the gun. He knocked the kid away, unjammed the machine gun, and fired on the attacking planes. My father said the Henderson might have been credited with downing one plane. Classified orders had the Henderson pursue a zig-zag course up to the Gulf of Alaska. There a Navy ship escorted her to San Francisco. She was equipped with more armament and return to Pearl Harbor at the end of December. What my father saw was the ship that pulled into their spot was sunk and the wreck- age of ships were still smoking and smoldering. My father thought to himself - Larry, I'm not go- ing to live through this war. He was wrong of course because his son was writing this historical event. William Selbach Foot note: My father's brother, Walter Selbach, was also in the Navy and was a casualty of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
The son of the WWII
veteran wrote of what his father told him when his son and he were
going thru his old military papers prior to his passing. The
unsigned hand written letter was written from the WWII Veteran,
Laurence Jacob Selbach.
Now come the questions.
Where had Henderson been berthed? Which ship taking her place was sunk? What was Henderson carrying that she went home by way of the Gulf of Alaska to pick up an escort back down to San Francisco? Was she alone or with any other ships?
USS Henderson (AP-1) was a veteran troop transport having carried troops to Europe during WWI, to China in the 1920's, and was making regular runs to the Philippines in the period before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Many military transports operated without significant arms during the peacetime years. The Henderson's captain was wise to seek a 1st class gunnery mate to tend a couple of 50s, albeit inadequate for a wartime footing. It is not a stretch to assume she was carrying homebound men, hence the particular need for warship escort.
As Henderson (AP-1) was at sea by the time she received her new orders, a route north -- into waters occupied by the Japanese fleet -- could be simply because: that first day, the Japanese fleet was though to have attacked from the south or west of Pearl, and going northeast would have been thought to put the troopship out of harms way of both the carrier fleet and submarines. She made it though the Japanese submarine blockade around the Hawaiian islands, probably escorted partway by one of the destroyers that sortied during the attack. It must have been a harrying experience to travel alone when the escort turned back. Going into the Gulf of Alaska is not a stretch if her initial orders were to receive armament at Seattle. We don't know what warship she picked up for escort, but it might have been from our northern forces. The shipyards around Pubic Sound were soon dedicated to repair damaged Pearl Harbor warships, so, diversion back to her original port of San Francisco Bay is reasonable.
Henderson made 20 troop carrying voyages during 1942-43. She was then refitted as hospital ship, Bountiful (AH-9), supporting Peleliu, Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The shipname was assigned to new construction, DD-785 (1945-1980).