Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dig a Little Deeper

I never met Louis (pronounced in the French “Loo-ie”) Derragon (der-A-gun). But over my lifetime, I heard so many stories about him that I felt that I had known him. He died in his mid-forties, a few years before I was born, and according to my dad, he was asthmatic, so apparently that was a contributing cause of death.
His photos all show a handsome, open smiling face, and the whole family seemed to hold him in the highest regard.

 One photograph shows him in the traditional Navy “crackerjack” uniform. My dad remembered that he worked at the Fargo Building in Boston as a recruiter, since he was restricted by his asthma. Many years later in an ancestry.com search, I came across the application for a military headstone for him. I was surprised to see it listed his service aboard the USS Ira Jeffrey as a Ship’s Cook First Class.

It was very interesting to learn about the history of the USS Ira Jeffrey. Based on the time period of Louis’ enlistment, 7 November, 1942 – 25 Sep 1945, and the time line of the IraJeffrey, 13 February 1943 until it was sunk in a target exercise off the coast of Charleston, SC in 1962, it looks like Louis may have been a “plank owner,” or part of the original ship’s crew. It also suggests that Louis may indeed have spent some time as a recruiter in Boston before his time aboard the Ira Jeffrey.

A history of the Charlestown Navy Yard published by the National Park Service states: “The Fargo Building on Summer Street in South Boston which served as headquarters for the First Naval District. The building today is owned by the Army and known as the Barnes Building.” It was a recruiting and processing station for the Navy during WWII.

The Ira Jeffrey was built at the Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1943 and was sponsored at its launching by the mother of the young Ensign for whom the ship was named. The shakedown cruise took her crew from Maine to Bermuda, and then an assignment to Quonset, RI. From there, she escorted eight troop convoys to Europe. From The Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, we learn that: ‘On the [last] return crossing, 20 December 1944, the escort's convoy was attacked by a German submarine.  After sinking an LST and damaging destroyer escort FOGG (DE-57), the submarine was driven off.  IRA JEFFERY assisted the damaged ship and eventually escorted her through rough seas to the Azores.”
Following her cruises across the Atlantic, the Ira Jeffrey was converted to a high-speed transport at New York Shipyard, and following a shakedown cruise in the Chesapeake Bay, she “then sailed 25 May with aircraft carrier ANTIETAM (CV-36) for the Panama Canal and Pearl Harbor, where she arrived 18 June 1945.”
In San Diego, she began training with underwater demolition teams which entered Pacific beaches in advance of the “American occupation landings,” and after island-hopping her way across the Pacific, returned to San Diego. The Ira Jeffrey was decommissioned  in Jacksonville, Florida in 1946.
Although he is listed as a Ship’s Cook, I know that he must have received other training, at least as a fireman – all Navy ships train their crew as fire/damage control – and during WWII, probably gunnery training as well.


I have not yet acquired the marriage record of Louis Philizia Derragon to my Aunt, Agnes Louis Smith, but they were married in 1945, and remained wed until his death in 1955. It is a great regret of mine that I did not take the time and overcome some timidity to ask Aunt Agnes more about a man with such a history as Louis Derragon. 

No comments:

Post a Comment