Local sailor remembers harrowing attack at outset of Korean conflict

World War II had pretty much wound down by the time 19-year-old Franklin Anderson left his native Williamstown, W.Va. and entered the U.S. Navy in 1947.

But there were other battles to be fought, and within four years Anderson, a machinist’s mate, and his fellow sailors aboard the destroyer-class USS Ernest G. Small would find themselves on the front lines of the Korean conflict.

“We were in the middle of a world cruise, and were near Shanghai in the fall of 1951 when we received word to head for Korea,” Anderson said.

On Oct. 7 the Small lay just off the eastern coast of North Korea, trading fire with enemy guns ashore.

“We had been shelling the coast all day, and the skipper was trying to maneuver the ship through a minefield. The North Koreans kept firing on us all the time,” Anderson recalled. “I was in the engine room, just behind the mess hall when the hull scraped against a mine and it exploded. The entire ship jumped sideways.”

Stunned but uninjured, Anderson said he wasn’t sure what had happened at first.

“Right then all I knew was that I wanted to get the hell out of there,” he said.

Fifteen sailors were killed right away in the explosion, and naval archives indicate that a total of 27 eventually died from the blast.

“That was 15 people I knew-gone in an instant,” Anderson said. “I was very fortunate, we were all just doing what we had to do.”

The ship’s bow was so badly damaged by the blast that it could not move forward without risking a complete blowout of that section of the hull, he said.

“We were able to steam aft (backward) until we reached a port in Japan,” Anderson said.

Back in Williamstown his family had heard that the Small had been damaged by an explosion, but there was no word on whether Anderson had survived the blast, according to Franklin’s wife, Mary Anderson.

“At the time I was in high school and was dating Franklin’s brother, Warren, who told me their mom and dad were about out of their minds with worry after hearing about the explosion,” she said. “George Davis ran the telegraph office downtown then, but he didn’t know what happened to Franklin either.”

It took awhile for the ship to limp into port, but Franklin was eventually able to contact his folks.

“I went ashore as soon as we reached Japan and wired them three words: ‘Well and safe,'” he said.

In Japan following their ordeal, the Small’s crew members were sent for a well-deserved rest at a resort area maintained by the U.S. Army before returning to their temporarily patched-up ship and sailing the crippled vessel back to the U.S.

“When we reached the states the ship went into dry-dock for repairs and we flew home for a 30-day leave,” Franklin said.

He was discharged in March, 1952, and returned to Williamstown where he worked as a painter with his father for some time, and was later employed by the Dravo Corporation, from which he retired in 1990 after 30 years of service.

“I worked on a barge on the river for a couple of years as a diesel engineer, too,” Franklin added. “We traveled the rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans.”

An avid artist, he has produced many drawings of historic buildings in and around the Williamstown area over the years. Franklin said he still receives many requests for copies of his works from local folks.

“I always liked drawing,” he said. “As long as I had a pencil and paper I was happy.”

Mary said while in the service his Navy buddies would often ask Franklin to draw a caricature or cartoon in the margin of the letters they sent home.

After he returned home, Mary decided she liked Franklin a bit better than his brother, and the couple soon married. They celebrated their 60th anniversary this year.