Seaman 1st Class General P. Douglas, U.S. Navy, k1943

 

Genaral Preston Douglas and his brother Garfield
Brothers Garfield Douglas (far l.) and General Preston Douglas (third from l.) and their Buddies. Garfield Douglas left Newcomb, Tennessee within two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. There was a massive local volunteering of troops, both sons from this family distinguished to have served in every major US War. General Preston was not yet of age and had to get his father's permission, so left later. The brothers were both on the USS Helena that was torpedoed in the Solomon Islands, but served in different sections of the ship.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced Thursday (circa September 2007) that the remains of a U.S. serviceman from Tennessee who had been missing since World War II have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

The Department of Defense identified Seaman 1st Class General P. Douglas, U.S. Navy, of Newcomb, in Campbell County, Tenn.

He will be buried Jan. 26 2008 in Sneedville in nearby Hancock County, according to the Department of Defense.

On July 6, 1943, the light cruiser USS Helena was struck by torpedoes fired by Japanese destroyers off the coast of Kolombangara Island, Solomon Islands, in what would become known as the Battle of the Kula Gulf.

More than 700 servicemen were rescued, but Douglas was one of more than 150 servicemen who were missing after the ship sank.

In June 2006, a resident of Ranongga Island, Solomon Islands, notified U.S. officials that he had exhumed human remains and Douglas' dog tag that he found near a trail by his village.

The officials contacted the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), and representatives subsequently traveled to Ranongga Island to examine the burial location. The officials verified that no additional remains were present.

The remains were identified by using dental records, other forensic identification tools, and circumstantial evidence. Scientists and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used DNA in the identification.

Ship's Loss Recalled

The USS Helena Web site lists the following description of how the ship, which had been commissioned in September 1939 was sunk by Japanese torpedoes.

"By midnight 5 July, 1943, Helena's group was off the northwest corner of New Georgia (island), with three cruisers and four destroyers composing the group.

"Racing down to face them were three groups of Japanese destroyers, a total of 10 enemy ships. Four of them peeled off to accomplish their mission of landing troops.

"By 0157 Helena began blasting away with a fire so rapid and intense that the Japanese later announced in all solemnity that she must have been armed with 6-inch machine guns.

"Ironically, Helena made a perfect target when lit by the flashes of her own guns. Seven minutes after she opened fire she was hit by a torpedo and within the next three minutes, she was struck by two more. Almost at once she began to jackknife. Below, she was flooding rapidly even before she broke up. In a well drilled manner, Helena's men went over the side.

"Helena's history closes with the almost incredible story of what happened to her men in the hours and days that followed. When her bow rose into the air after the sinking, many of them clustered around it, only to be fired on there. About a half hour after she sank, two American destroyers came to the rescue.

"At daylight, the enemy was in range once more, and again the destroyers, Nicholas (DD 449) and Radford ( DD 446 ), broke off' their rescue operations to pursue. Anticipating an air attack, the destroyers withdrew for Tulagi, carrying with them all but about 275 of the survivors.

"To those who remained they left four boats manned by volunteers from the destroyers' crews. Captain C.P. Cecil, Helena's commanding officer, organized a small flotilla of three motor whaleboats, each towing a lifecraft, carrying 88 men to a small island about 7 miles from Rice Anchorage after a laborious all-day passage. This group was rescued the next morning by the destroyers USS Gwin and USS Woodworth.

"For the second group of nearly 200, the bow of Helena was their lifecraft, but it was slowly sinking.

"Disaster was staved off by a Navy Liberator (patrol plane) that dropped lifejackets and four rubber lifeboats.

"The wounded were placed aboard the lifeboats, while the able-bodied surrounded the boats and did their best to propel themselves toward nearby Kolombangara Island.

"But wind and current carried them ever further into enemy waters. Through the torturous day that followed, many of the wounded died.

"American search planes missed the tragic little fleet, and Kolombaranga gradually faded away to leeward.

"Another night passed, and in the morning the island of Vella Lavella loomed ahead. It seemed the last chance for Helena's men and so they headed for it. By dawn, survivors in all three remaining boats observed land a mile distant and all who were left were safely landed.

"Two coastwatchers and loyal natives cared for the survivors as best they could, and radioed news of them to Guadalcanal. The 166 sailors then took to the jungle to evade Japanese patrols.

"Surface vessels were chosen for the final rescue, Nicholas and Radford, augmented by USS Jenkins (DD 447) and USS O'Bannon (DD-460) set off 15 July, 1943 to sail further up "The Slot" than ever before, screening the movement of two destroyer-transports and four other destroyers.

"During the night of 16 July, the rescue force brought out the 165 Helena men, along with 16 Chinese who had been in hiding on the island. Of Helena's nearly 900 men, 168 had perished."

 

Regina Douglas Collins, General Preston Douglas' sister, died circa November 2007, before her brother was brought home. It is said that Garfield searched the dark waters in vain and came home forever changed as he walked the Earth always wondering where his brother was. Their Mother worried too and was suffering with Alzheimer's by the time news of the discovery of the body reached Tennessee.


Addendum

A Memorial Homecoming CelebrationImage may contain: 1 person

General Preston Douglas was born July 26, 1922 in Newcomb in Campbell County, Tennessee. His parents were Walter and Bertha Morgan Douglas, his brother was Walter Garfield Douglas, and his sister was Regina Douglas Collins. Two spinster aunts, Mary and Martha Douglas helped raise them. He enlisted in the Navy on December 17, 1941 and served on the U.S.S. Helena (CL-50) along with his brother Garfield, who left earlier, within two weeks of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. General had to ask his father's permission as he was underage so went later.
Mr. Douglas was a WWI veteran himself, from a family distinguished to have served in every major US War.

"I watched your cousin General walk off Pug Hill to catch the Greyhound", Jean Nayles told me.

He went to San Diego, California for basic training. Sadly, General has not been seen in these parts since.

The Newcomb Douglas brothers served as seamen in WW II. They were assigned to the USS Helena, which came under attack at the battle of Kula Gulf. On the morning of July 6, 1943, a Japanese submarine torpedoed the Helena. The first torpedo hit was received in the vicinity of frame 30, at an estimated depth of about 15 feet below the water line. This hit severed the bow and turret from the remaining part of the ship. The extent of the damage caused by this torpedo hit was not know by any surviving officer or man until after the engagement and the crew were preparing to abandon ship. Shortly after the first torpedo hit the ship, a second torpedo hit was received and all power was lost. A third and final torpedo hit was received about one minute after the second.

Nearly 1,000 men were on board. All but 174 were safely evacuated before the ship slipped into its watery grave.  Preston and Garfield served in different sections of the ship. Garfield survived.
General was killed two weeks shy of his 21st Birthday.

For the next two years General was listed as Missing in Action since 6 July 1943 and officially declared dead on 10 August 1945, memorialized at Manila American Cemetery. Though the new designation brought some closure to the grieving, questions remained. For years, his sister, Regina, made many inquires about her brother’s fate, which remained a mystery until 2006.

A cousin shared how Garfield searched the dark waters in vain and came home forever changed. He walked the earth, forever wondering where his dear brother Preston was. His mind always seemingly searching the watery Pacific grave. Garfield moved north to Michigan after the war and later died in a VA hospital in 1971.

On a warm sunny day in 2006 on a secluded beach on the Solomon Island of Kolombangar, a beachcomber discovered a dog tag protruding from the sand. After a little digging, he found several bones. He contacted the United States Department of Defense, which excavated the area. There they uncovered bones, teeth, the dog tags and a metal four leaf clover that Douglas carried.

The remains were 50 miles from where the battle had taken place. How they got there remains a mystery. The DOD issued a statement saying the prevailing theory is that his body may have washed up to shore, where it was buried by natives. In June 2006, a resident of Ranonga Island notified the US Consulate, who notified John Innes who researched the name and contacted JPAC. In mid-September 2006, a team from JPAC traveled to the island and visited the burial site. His remains were positively identified by the lab.

After careful investigation, the DOD located the Douglas family. The family had moved from Newcomb, where he was born to Sneedville, Tennesee.

“My mother spent many years wondering what happened to her brother,” said Denny Douglas, nephew of General Douglas.

“We were all very happy when the Department of Defense confirmed that it was my uncle’s remains they found. It was in early 2007 that they confirmed it was my uncle’s remains.”

Unfortunately, Regina Douglas had developed Alzheimer’s disease by 2006. She was unable to comprehend that her brother’s remains had been found. Regina Douglas died in November 2007. She didn’t live to see her brother returned home.

The funeral for General Douglas was held January 26, 2008 at McNeil Funeral Home in Sneedville, six and a half decades after his death. His flag draped coffin sat next to a table with a portrait of him, along with a display case containing three medals awarded posthumously. The patriot guard, an organization formed to honor fallen soldiers, bore two American flags in the chapel.

The coffin was then escorted across Clinch Mountain down a winding road to an old community cemetery. As many as 200 people braved the chilling cold, and the color guards proudly displayed flags from all branches of the service as well as the United States flag, the flag of Tennessee and the MIA flag. After a brief prayer, there was the firing of the 21 gun salute, the highest honor bestowed at a military funeral. Dozens of active and retired soldiers, ranging in age from 20 to 80 and in their military dress uniforms, stood at attention as the somber notes of taps resonated throughout the valley.

He was laid to rest at Gollihon Cemetery next to his sister. There were soldiers from four wars, school children, veterans groups and distant relatives who came to remember Seaman 1st Class General Preston Douglas.
Kevin Walden and the American Legion honor guard were there also. I was honored to have been invited to pay my respects and stand alongside my Douglas cousins.

The mystery of General's fate is now resolved. He has finally come home to the family that will always love and remember him.

Contributed by: Derek J.H. Douglas

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