Morrow resident Clifford B. Dunaway, Sr., is one of two remaining survivors of the U.S.S. Atlanta that he is aware of in Georgia. Tuesday marks the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Atlanta during the Battle of Guadalcanal.
MORROW Time hasn’t healed the wound of the Battle of Guadalcanal for Morrow resident Clifford B. Dunaway, Sr.
Dunaway, who served on the U.S.S. Atlanta at the battle in the South Pacific, can still remember the details of that day. He can recall the way the Atlanta seemed to jump out of the water when it was hit by two torpedoes. He can vividly describe the evacuation of the ship and how one of his fellow sailors with a shrapnel wound collapsed onto him as they climbed into a life raft.
He remembers the burned, mangled bodies he found in some of the Atlanta’s gun turrets when he and other sailors went back on the crippled ship to try and salvage it.
He can still see the red blood of one badly injured dead sailor running down the side of the ship.
“Sometimes I get a little emotional because it brings back so many bad memories,” said Dunaway, 92.
Tuesday will mark the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the U.S.S. Atlanta at Guadalcanal, but it’s almost like it happened yesterday for Dunaway. He has become a rare breed because he is one of two survivors that he is aware of who still lives in Georgia. The other survivor — the injured sailor who fell on Dunaway during the evacuation of the ship — is still alive in Gainesville, he said.
The Atlanta was a young cruiser with some battle experience before Guadalcanal. “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell had only christened the ship in Brooklyn, N.Y. nearly 10 1/2 months earlier.
As Dunaway looked at a photo of the ship cruising through the sea, he quipped, “This is the photo that made me want to join the Navy.” He explained it was the same photo the Navy ran of the ship in newspaper advertisements in the state, calling for Georgia men to sign up to serve on the Atlanta.
Dunaway said the ship was sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in the spring of 1942, and done some escort work for aircraft carriers. It also protected carriers during the Battle of Midway in June of that year.
“We were all scared to death because we were going up against something we had never been against before,” he said. “It had always been air attacks and we’d never been hit. We felt pretty confident, but still there was suspense just a little bit before the battle started.”
Dunaway said he was violently shaking in his assigned gun turret — Turret Number 8 — because he was so scared of what was to come.
“Any man that said he wasn’t scared is lying,” said Dunaway.
Dunaway said the 13-ship cruiser group the Atlanta was part of was sent to face what was initially believed to be “six or eight” Japanese cruisers and battleships heading to Guadalcanal to repel Allied naval forces.
In reality, they were heading in a single-file line toward a group of 34 Japanese ships, he said.
During the ensuing battle, the Atlanta was struck by one torpedo that harmlessly bounced off the ship’s hull. But the next two torpedoes hit the middle of the ship nearly simultaneously and caused a massive explosion.
“When a [Japanese] torpedo hits you, it’s very powerful,” said Dunaway. “It picked our ship up and when it came down, it started listing to the port side.”
The explosions also knocked out power throughout the ship, which also began to take on water. It was also night time, so it was difficult to see what was happening. Suddenly another American cruiser mistook the Atlanta for a Japanese ship and began firing at it.
Dunaway said the order came down to abandon the heavily damaged ship. He said sailors tried to get away from the sinking ship as fast as they could in life rafts because they thought it would sink overnight.
“We were paddling to get away from the ship because the suction created by a sinking ship is very powerful,” said Dunaway.
The next day, the ship was still afloat so Dunaway was part of a group that went back on the Atlanta to see if it could be salvaged. They tried to pump out water to no avail. They also tried to get the ship towed to safety, but the Atlanta’s anchor had somehow dropped while it was being attacked the night before.
It could only be moved a short distance, so officers ordered it be sunk rather than let it fall into Japanese hands.
Dunaway said he isn’t sure how many survivors of the Atlanta are left nationwide, but he said one-third of its 750-man crew died at Guadalcanal.
“The Atlanta was a fine ship and she had a good crew,” he said. “It’s a shame that we lost her.”