We were contacted last month by the Commanding Officer of the destroyer USS Sterett (DDG 104) about an historic artifact that once belonged to the Naval Historical Foundation. Commander Stewart L. Bateshansky, USN, recently assumed command of the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, homeported in San Diego. He was shown a tattered 5 foot by 3 foot 48-star American flag, and informed that it had been flown by USS Sterett (DD 407) during the 1942 Guadalcanal campaign. On the packaging for the flag, he noted that the item was marked as once being in the possession of the Naval Historical Foundation. Commander Bateshansky emailed us, curious to know more on the specifics of the flag and where it came from.
The flag was donated to the Foundation in 1959 by Sterett‘s former Executive Officer, Commander Herb May, USN (Retired), who lived in nearby Maryland, and who served on board Sterett for most of World War II. The donation was likely made to the Truxtun-Decatur Naval Museum, which at the time was operated by the Foundation. According to May, the flag was flown at the “battle of Guadalcanal.” This statement is a rather broad one, as the destroyer operated in the vicinity of the Solomon Islands for much of late 1942 and 1943. It is impossible to pin down exactly when the flag may have flown over Sterett, but it is possible that it was flapping in the breeze during the cataclysmic Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on the dark morning of 13 November 1942, 70 years ago this fall. In that ferocious battle, which took place in Ironbottom Sound, just south of Savo Island, an outnumbered American force of cruisers and destroyers engaged a Japanese strike force consisting of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. The American group suffered horrific losses of ships and men, but hit back hard at the Japanese force, whose losses included the battleship Hiei. Importantly, the Japanese task force was turned back from its intended mission to shell Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.
During the fighting, Sterett took numerous hits from gunfire. In late 1943, a confidential report was compiled on Sterett‘s part in the battle and the damage she took. According to the report, the destroyer “was between two enemy columns at ranges from 1,000 to 4,000 yards and received eleven direct projectile hits.” Included in the report is a detailed color plan of the damage, which can be seen here:
A copy of this report exists in the Ship’s History Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command, at the Washington Navy Yard. For those interested in reading it, we’ve scanned it and a digital copy can be downloaded here.
The flag was transferred in 2010 from the collection of the Foundation to the current USS Sterett. We were most pleased to hear from Commander Bateshansky, and thrilled to know how important this artifact is to the current crew of the destroyer. We shared the damage report with him, and he intends to have a high quality reproduction made for display along with the flag. We are proud to have helped these current warfighters connect with the history and heritage of those who preceded them.
Charles A. Bond
William P Gates
Charles A. Bond
Lindy J Kirkham
Charles A. Bond