2016-04-13 / Star Journal

World War II, And Ships Of War Built In 1942 Queens

A The Greater Astoria Historical Society presents pages from the Long Island Star Journal.

Welcome to April 1942!

April 1942 saw the world engulfed in conflict for the second time in less than 30 years. The infamous

Bataan Death March, in which some 10,000 American and Filipino soldiers perished on a march into Japanese captivity in the Philippines, began on the 9th of that month. Several days later in Lithuania, German army conscript Anton Schmid was executed by his superiors for helping some 250 Jewish people escape Nazi extermination. In a final letter home to his family, he said, “I have just acted as a human and I did not want to hurt anyone.”

For a month that began mostly with a steady drumbeat of Allied setbacks and Axis atrocities, however, April soon brought a glimmer of hope and a much-needed morale boost as American bombers from the carrier Hornet struck a stinging punch at the Japanese mainland on the 18th of the month. America was settled in for a long fight, the outcome still far from certain.

VADM John D. Bulkeley, U.S. Navy taken 1988. Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley being awarded the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt. 
Photos public domain VADM John D. Bulkeley, U.S. Navy taken 1988. Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley being awarded the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt. Photos public domain Back home in New York City, the people of Queens stood ready to battle the Axis foe with whatever they had to give. For Irish-born widow Mary Ryan of Flushing, who sent her four sons off to fight, Hollywood actor Lew Ayres claiming conscientious objector status that March was unpatriotic.

“I hate war. We all hate war, but someone has to fight to keep the Japanese and Nazis from coming over here. Someone must keep Hitler from enslaving us as he did the peoples of Europe.”

Lew Ayres went on to earn three battle stars as an Army medic in the Pacific theater, but the historical record seems silent on the fates of Mrs. Ryan’s four sons, including Private First Class Leon Ryan, who was stationed in Greenland.

Meanwhile, over in Whitestone, the roughly 400 employees of the Wheeler Shipyard celebrated the launching of one of their new sleek minesweepers that month. The workers sent up a loud cheer as the YMS-44, bristling with top-secret equipment, slid from its dock into the East River. Located on former Long Island Rail Road shipyards at the foot of 154th Street in Beechhurst, the Wheeler Shipyard had already earned the coveted Navy “E” for efficiency for its contribution to the war effort. The yard’s latest addition to the minesweeper fleet plied the oceans for the remainder of the conflict and was stricken from the Naval Register in 1946.

In the Pacific, PT boat Commander Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley of Thomson Hill commemorated the birth of his son in early April by staging a gallant attack on a Japanese cruiser. (Note: The Annapolis graduate, who had commanded the squadron that evacuated General MacArthur from the Philippines the previous month, earned the Medal of Honor for his bravery. He retired as a

Vice Admiral in 1988 after 55 years of naval service.)

William Thorne of Flushing celebrated his 91st birthday in April 1942. Long since retired from the local railroads, Mr. Thorne sat down with a Long Island Star Journal reporter to reflect back on a lifetime that spanned four wars. Too young to have served in the Civil War, although he vividly recalled Union soldiers stationed at Willet’s Point, Whitestone’s oldest citizen celebrated his birthday by remembering the intrepid young Americans serving overseas.

“I offered a prayer for our fighting men,” he said. “I hope and pray I’ll live to see the day when our country will achieve a final smashing victory over the aggressors.”

Thorne was a descendant of two signers of the Flushing Remonstrance, a 1657 petition for religious freedom.

That’s the way it was in April 1942!

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

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