This was sent by a veteran of the attempted rescue of the Texas Tower No. 4 crew, Wilbur Lee.
I READ WITH GREAT INTEREST YOUR ARTICLE ON THE TEXAS TOWER # 4 THAT WENT DOWN DURING A STORM IN 1961 (UNDER THE WAVES, A REMINDER.... JULY 15 1999) [Ed. Note: referring to the article in the Phila. Enquirer]
YOU SEE I WAS ON ONE OF THE DESTROYERS (USS LLOYD THOMAS DDE 764) THAT WAS AT THE SCENE TRYING TO RESCUE THE PEOPLE WHEN THE TOWER STARTED TO GO DOWN....THE DESTROYER SQUADRON WAS FROM NEWPORT R.I. WE WERE NOTIFIED LATE IN THE DAY WHILE WE WERE AT SEA AND IN A VERY BAD STORM TO GO TO OUR BATTLE STATIONS. WHILE AT THOSE STATIONS THE CAPTAIN CAME ON THE INTERCOM SYSTEM AND NOTIFIED ALL THAT WE WERE GOING TO A EARLY WARNING RADAR STATION AND SHOULD ARRIVE WITHIN THE HOUR AND THAT WE WERE GOING TO TRY TO HIGH-LINE PEOPLE OFF THE TOWER BEFORE IT WENT DOWN...AS WE ALL KNOW WE WERE TO LATE... I HAD FRIENDS THAT WERE IN THE SONAR ROOM AT THE TIME AND I WAS TOLD THAT THERE WERE TAPE RECORDINGS OF THE PEOPLE IN THE TOWER SENDING MESSAGES BY TAPPING ON THE WALLS OF THE TOWER TO THE SURFACE SHIPS. IT WAS KNOWN THAT SOME OF THE PEOPLE WERE ALIVE AFTER THE TOWER HAD WENT BELOW THE SURFACE....I NEVER DID FIND OUT HOW LONG SONAR WAS ABLE TO HEAR THE TAPPING....THEY USED THE SIGNAL "SHAVE AND A HAIR CUT" WHICH MOST EVERY ONE KNOWS... THE MEMORY OF THIS EVENT IS STILL VERY VIVID IN MY MIND...I WAS A YOUNG MAN AT THAT TIME AND THE TOWER 4 HAD A LIFE LONG EFFECT ON ME....KNOWING THERE WAS NOTHING WE COULD DO...BEING SO HELPLESS....IT STILL BRINGS TEARS TO MY EYES AFTER ALMOST 40 YEARS. YOU SEE THAT TOWER HAD AN EFFECT ON MORE THAN JUST THE PEOPLE THAT WERE ON IT AND THE SURVIVORS...THERE WERE A LOT OF US THAT WERE OUT TO SEA THAT WERE STUNNED THAT NIGHT..
I WOULD BE GRATEFUL IF YOU WOULD LET THE FAMILIES KNOW THAT EVEN IF THE GOVERNMENT TRIED TO FORGET WHAT HAPPENED THAT NIGHT IN 1961 THERE ARE A LOT THAT DID NOT FORGET AND NEVER WILL..
The Lloyd Thomas was retired in April, 1999
WILBUR LEE (MM2 USS LLOYD THOMAS DD 764)
DEER PARK, TEXAS 77536
281 478 0001
Another DDE 764 crewman, Ralph Sutton, sends this first-hand account:
A short while ago, a shipmate from the USS Lloyd Thomas DDE 764 by the name of Wilbur E. Lee asked me to write down what I recall of the Texas Tower that collapsed into the Atlantic Ocean on January 15, 1961 off the coast of New Jersey. What I do recall is as follows:
Midmorning of January 15, 1961, Task Group Bravo pulled out of Newport, RI to go on a two-week anti-submarine exercise off the coast of the Carolina's. We were to rendezvous with the USS Wasp who had left Boston and proceed south. It was a cold, very windy and rainy day. We pulled out into relatively calm water as the land surrounding us protected us from the ocean. I had no idea what we were heading into.
When we got out into the open sea we were being hit with some heavy waves. The waves were coming up over the bow of the ship slamming into the 5" gun mounts and washing up onto the windshield of the bridge. It still puzzles me to this day why the top brass would not delay the exercise one or two days to let the main brunt of the storm pass us by. Regardless, we did pull out, linked up with the Wasp and proceeded south.
My rating aboard the LT at this time was Radarman. I had the four to midnight shift and I was manning the Radarscope when we passed Texas Tower #4 heading south. Everything appeared normal. We were in a screen pattern around the carrier and getting battered by the high waves. I don't recall how far south we were from the TT when the distress calls started to come through. I believe we were approximately 30 miles southeast. We received orders from the carrier to turn around and head for the TT as fast as possible under the conditions we were operating under. I recall hearing messages from the carrier that they were trying to launch helicopters but due to the heavy seas and strong winds, they could not get the helicopters safely into the air.
As we were heading back towards the TT, I was tracking the other ships in the task group and keeping tabs on how close we were to the TT. At 18 miles out from the TT the radar picture of the TT started breaking up. I actually watched the tower, via the radar picture, slide into the waves of the ocean. In a total of three sweeps of the radar the image of the tower had disappeared. Myself and the rest of the members of the CIC were in shock that the tower had disappeared like that. We continued on course until we reached the area, confirmed that the tower indeed had gone down and the hunt for survivors started. We stayed on station throughout the night and into the morning. When I was relieved from watch the LT and our sister ship, the Keppler DDE 765, had made several passes over the tower and we received word that there was tapping sounds coming from inside the tower. In the morning we were informed that no further noises were coming from the tower other than natural noises from objects banging into each other or noises from the tower shifting. I feel the high command believed that nobody could have survived more than a couple of hours in the water or in the tower due to the temperature of the water. Around noon we were ordered back to Newport to refuel and then resume our exercises off the Carolina's coastline.
Due to the years that have separated the event and now I do not recall exactly what went through my mind during this event other than to say I was in shock and disbelief when the tower went down. At the time we had heard that there was only a skeleton crew aboard consisting of approximately nine men. It was only later on that we learned the true number of people that went down with the tower. It is only right that we honor them so that they are not forgotten.