Lest We Forget

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Before long, the Pirate had swept five moored contact mines with her port gear and one with the starboard. A U.S. helicopter flying low across the harbor reported sighting a large "cabbage patch" of mines, but the pilot's report did not make clear its exact location relative to the sweeps. About the same time that the Pirate 's sonar began sounding a great many contacts, the bow lookout excitedly reported seeing a mine at shallow depth off the starboard bow. The Pirate 's skipper, Lieutenant Cornelius McMullen, immediately ordered hard left rudder to swing the ship's bow away and then rapidly followed with an order to shift the rudder to hard right, hoping to swing her stern clear.

But it was too late. A powerful explosion erupted on the starboard side. McMullen was initially knocked out but regained consciousness within half a minute. The Pirate was already listing heavily, and it was soon clear that she was not going to survive. McMullen ordered the lifeboats and floater nets deployed and then ordered "abandon ship." When he was certain that all hands had departed, McMullen went over the side as the ship's fantail settled into the water. Within four minutes, the Pirate was gone.

The enemy shore batteries now opened up and shrapnel-laden geysers erupted all about the Sailors in the water. The next ship in the column, the USS Pledge (AM-277), immediately began to move in to rescue the men from the cold water, but the shore batteries caused her to take evasive action, and then she, too, struck a mine. It was a fatal blow, and she would soon join the Pirate on the bottom of Wonsan Harbor.

Undaunted by the heavy fire from ashore and the probability of more mines, the destroyer Endicott (DMS-35) moved in to rescue the survivors of the sinking ships. Aided by a PBM Mariner aircraft, whose crew provided spotting information to the destroyer's gunners while strafing the North Koreans with their own machine guns, the Endicott recovered all but 13 of the stricken ships' crews.

Despite this rather intimidating precedent, other minesweeping Sailors followed in the Pirate 's wake and eventually were able to sweep a safe channel. Lieutenant McMullen was later awarded the Silver Star, and the Pirate received a Presidential Unit Citation.

Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the author of several books, including A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy and Brown Water, Black Berets .
 

Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More

 
 

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