By lex, on October 2nd, 2011
Another good man has stepped into the clearing at the end of the path:
Lt. Cmdr. Joseph R. Carmichael Jr., the Bunker Hill’s chief engineer, had just finished his shift and was in his office doing paperwork. “He could definitely have stayed there and never been criticized,” said Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, the author of “Danger’s Hour: The Story of the U.S.S. Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her.” The book recounts what could have been a far more calamitous day but for the bravery of Commander Carmichael and his engineering crew.
“Instead,” Mr. Kennedy said in an interview on Wednesday, “he ran down through five decks, passing sailors who were evacuating, and made it to the engine compartment about 25 feet below sea level. This was in a ship that he knew was burning above him and could sink at any moment.”
Commander Carmichael, who would receive the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism” in keeping the Bunker Hill afloat that day, but who would never forget the loss of many men under his direct command, died on Monday in Manhattan after a long illness, said his wife, Jeanne. He was 96.
His actions, and those of his men, are credited with helping to save not just the ship but nearly 2,800 crew members as well.
In the old steam ships, the engineers lived a life not clearly distinguishable from hell. Hot, noisy, toilsome. Unromantic. Not for them the sound of the guns, nor the contrails of the sky. Just the routine clank and clash of machinery, day in, day out. Gauges in the green or hard, dark work to do. Down there under the waterline, with the sea waiting to get in, and 600 psi steam desperate to get out, one of which would drown you in the darkness like a rat, the other of which could cut you in half like a laser. When everything went well, they got no credit. When things broke, they were harassed and flogged to fix them.
They didn’t fight the ship, but the ship couldn’t fight without them.
It was a hard life. A life, nevertheless, that they clung to tightly, and the ship was theirs in a way that few others could claim. And sometimes, when all the chips were on the table, they had a chance to rise above the commonplace and live forever. Twenty-eight hundred men survived that attack that otherwise might have perished. They came home, married, had children and grandchildren. Most of whom lived out their lives not knowing that they owe them to a chief engineer who left his desk, ran down five decks and saved a ship.
Ave atque vale, frater.