One of my favorite walking paths takes me through Allentown’s West Park, where there’s a row of war monuments, including one that stands out by its shape. It’s in the form of a ship’s anchor and reads:
TO THE OFFICERS AND CREW OF THE USS ALLENTOWN
FROM THE PEOPLE OF ALLENTOWN PENNSYLVANIA
What’s that about, anyway?
Google the name and you get 46,600 hits, including a website, http://www.pf52.org/, dedicated to the ship and its men.
The Morning Call archives contain numerous stories about the Allentown, the most definitive of which was written by my friend Gerry Shields in August 1990. It revealed the captain as having a personality like the fictional Capt. Queeg of The Caine Mutiny.
Seven years after Gerry’s story appeared, one of the Allentown’s officers made a poignant confession concerning the captain during the crew’s last national reunion, held in the city.
The Allentown, called the “Amazing A” by its crew, was among 75 patrol frigates built by the Navy and manned by the Coast Guard during World War II. It was the kind of ship my dad, a radio operator, served on. Ultimately it was scrapped.
Named after U.S. cities, patrol frigates were used to track weather conditions – the duty my father had in the North Atlantic – escort destroyers and fight submarines.
The Allentown, PF-52, was launched July 3, 1943, and christened by Allentown High School teacher Joyce Breary, daughter of Gen. Frank D. Beary, a Spanish-American War vet and the civil defense chairman in the Lehigh Valley.
Crew members made their first trip to Allentown on July 10, 1944, with the city holding a party for them at the Americus Hotel. After that, the warship left for the Pacific, where its captain, Garland W. Collins, made their lives miserable.
“It was a hell ship for a while,” wrote Philip Garlington, a lieutenant on board. “The crew figured he was more of an enemy than the Japanese.”
Another lieutenant, Allan Emery, said the captain sent him and another man on a mission to a refrigerator ship for frozen peas and strawberries — during a Japanese air raid. They were rebuffed and returned empty-handed. Collins hurried to the loudspeaker and announced to the crew: “Mr. Emery has failed us again.”
At the crew’s last reunion in September 1997, Emery told a story he’d “never told before because it puts me in a poor light.”
Morning Call columnist Jim Kelly covered the event, in what was then the Hilton in downtown Allentown, and wrote the following:
“I was not a favorite of the captain and he was not one of mine,” [Emery said]. On the evening Collins was relieved of command…, “Suddenly the source of all my problems was going to be taken away. I was staggered.”
It was a dark night and Emery had walked up to the flying bridge and was silently pondering the news when the captain also reached the bridge. Emery stayed in the shadows and listened as the captain spoke aloud to himself.
“They’ve beaten you, Collins,” he said. “All your life you’ve planned for this and they’ve taken it away. But you’re not going to let them know how hurt you are.”
Emery did not come forward, he said, but wanted the crew to know that over the years he had come to realize what a lonely and frightened man the captain was.
“Perhaps I could have reached out and helped….It has been an important lesson of my life…to realize that some of our most noisy, bothersome people also deserve our help.
“I make that confession unproudly because that’s the way it is,” he said, and quietly walked to his seat to the applause of the men.
A footnote: The only sailor from the Lehigh Valley to serve on the USS Allentown was George R. Holko of Catasauqua, who died in 1979 at age 56.