Vice Admiral Bernard L. “Count” Austin, U.S. Navy, had a distinguished career, including tours as Commander, U.S. Second Fleet, and president of the U.S. Naval War College. As evidenced by his Naval Institute oral history—edited sections of which appear here—he was a splendid raconteur.
Looking back to his 1920 Naval Academy plebe year, he recalled a lunchtime hazing of fellow plebe Stone Bush by an upperclassman named Weiser, who ordered Bush to recite a limerick.
Without batting an eye, Bush came down with the following:
“The man sitting nearby, sir,
By the name of Bud Weiser
Of his entire class
Is the biggest jackass,
And this I maintain is no lie, sir.”
Weiser was not amused and ordered Bush under the table. But the other upper-classmen present, roaring with laughter, said no. It was Weiser who had to get under the table—for a full week.
In the Pacific campaign of 1943, Austin had command of Destroyer Division 46 in Captain Arleigh Burke’s Destroyer Squadron 23 “Little Beavers.” In fighting off Bougainville Island, the destroyers were positioned to attack Japanese task forces coming down to intercept the U.S. landings. During a night action, Burke’s ships started straddling Austin’s with gunfire.
I called him on the TBS and said “For goodness sake, Arleigh, stop shooting at me. I’m trying to help you out here.” He always had a pretty good sense of humor, even in battle, and replied, “Okay, Count. I won’t shoot any more, but excuse the four salvos that are on the way.”
Days later, the Little Beavers received intelligence indicating a planned nighttime Japanese evacuation of some 800 personnel off Buka.
Arleigh asked me to come over to his ship and talk it over. He said, “Let’s take the chart and step this off.” When we got under way, Arleigh sent me his detailed plan for the night and asked for my comments. I always tried to be as good a kibitzer as I could. I felt that was one of my main functions, to be the devil’s advocate. I tried to find some flaws in his plan and I couldn’t. I told him so.
About quarter of twelve we made contact by radar with the Japanese task force. We both went in for torpedo attack. We were cruising in two columns. We had some luck in the first foray. The enemy task force split. Arleigh told me to take one, and he took the other part of the retreating ships.
One of the ships I was chasing caught fire and was dead in the water. I started after the second one. Arleigh saw what I was doing—taking out after the other one—and he said, “No you don’t. You stay and see it sink!”
I had to turn around, because I was already on my chase. During the time I was firing at the ship that was disabled I received a torpedo hit in the engine room. Luckily it didn’t explode, but it did bend the frame and put a little dimple in the side of the ship. When I saw my enemy ship sink, I took off as quickly as possible; I used a little imagination on the last bit of her sad end.
Arleigh, in the meantime, had had pretty fair success with the ships he was chasing. He had sunk one of them. The other was away toward Rabaul, their home port.
We chased these two ships the rest of the night. We had Rabaul on our radar when Arleigh with his usual enthusiasm came up on the TBS and said, “If necessary, we’ll chase them right into Rabaul harbor. They’ll stop there, by George.”
I said, “Arleigh, if we do, I hope those Japanese fuel fittings fit our hoses, because I’m going to be out of fuel. I expect you will be too.” Arleigh said, “I get it, I get it.” He gave the order to reverse course. It was an uneasy time, knowing you’re out of fuel and ammunition and so far from home. If they had sent out an air attack, it would have been pretty sad.