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Lest We Forget - ‘Heights of Courage and Forgetfulness of Self’

There is great irony in that war is humanity’s greatest folly, yet it sometimes brings out what is best about mankind. In sharp contrast to the surrounding horror, many of the crew, some seriously injured themselves, administered first aid to those with hope and helped ease the suffering of those without. The ship’s executive officer later described the scene:

I really have no words at my command that can adequately describe the veritable splendor of the conduct of all hands, wounded and unwounded. Men with legs off, with arms off, with gaping wounds in their sides, with the tops of their heads furrowed by fragments, would insist, ‘I’m all right. Take care of Joe over there,’ or ‘Don’t waste morphine on me, Commander; just hit me over the head.’ ”Terrible as the destruction was, it is a source of supreme gratification to know the heights of courage and forgetfulness of self to which one’s shipmates can rise.

Despite a final casualty count of 229 killed, 4 missing, 211 wounded seriously, and 25 with minor injuries, the heavily damaged Birmingham was repaired and returned to the war in time to participate in the battle off Okinawa. There she would survive another hit—this time from a kamikaze.

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

 
 

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