“A Japanese torpedo so badly damaged the HOUSTON on the night of Oct. 13, 1944 that the captain of the light cruiser gave the order to ‘abandon ship.'”
That’s how the Wednesday, October 8 through Tuesday, October 14 column for “This Week in Texas History” starts. The second World War II fighting ship to bear the name of Texas’ biggest city looked like it would follow the first to the bottom of the Pacific, but that would spoil the story. Read all about it in your local newspaper or with a private email subscription available on the web site.
That’s the title of the “This Week in History” column for the week of Wednesday, March 5 through Tuesday, March 11, and it’s all about the Marine who is one of only two NFL football players and one of only two professional baseball players awarded the Medal of Honor.
Jack Lummus was an All-Southwest Conference end on the gridirion and the best centerfielder on the diamond for Baylor on the eve of the Second World War. He played a little minor-league baseball and a full season with the football Giants before going off to fight the Japanese.
Audie Murphy jumped on top of a burning tank destroyer on January 26, 1945 and for the next hour singlehandedly fought an advancing German column to a standstill. When the smoke cleared, the five-foot five-inch Texan had killed or wounded 50 enemy soldiers and saved his fellow GI’s.
For his incredible heroics that day in France, Murphy was awarded more combat citations than any American in World War II. With the help of Hollywood legend James Cagney, he went on to make dozens of movies, mostly B-Westerns, before his death at 45 in a 1971 plane crash.
On November 12, 1948, the Texas Institute of Letters awarded the McMurray Book Store’s $250 prize for Best Texas First Novel of the Year to David Westheimer for “Summer on the Water.”
The Rice graduate and Houston newspaperman had the rotten luck to be on-board the first B-24 shot down over Italy in December 1942 and spent the rest of WWII in a German POW camp. Westheimer is best known for the best-selling novel “Von Ryan’s Express” published in 1964 and turned into the popular motion picture of the same name.
The choice of voters in a Central Texas congressional district, Olin “Tiger” Teague began his 32-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives on August 24, 1946.
A graduate of Texas A&M class of 1932, Teague took part in the Normandy landing and six months later was the second most decorated American soldier of World War II behind Audie Murphy. An advocate for veterans of all wars, poor health forced him to retire after 16 terms.
The Navy launched the new U.S.S. Houston at Newport News, Virginia on June 19, 1943. The original cruiser with the same name was sunk in March 1942 with the loss of 693 lives and the internment of the 368 survivors in Japanese POW camps.
The second Houston took several torpedo hits off Formosa in the fall of 1944 but somehow managed to stay afloat. Manned by a skeleton crew, it limped home reaching safe harbor at New York five months later.
In a rare escape attempt by German POW’s, eight fled a work detail near Temple on June 6, 1943 but none made it out of Bell County.
By June 1944, Texas had 33 prisoner-of-war camps with an estimated 75,000 “guests,” most of them German with a token number of Italians and Japanese. Climate, space and a willingness to warehouse enemy combatants contributed to Texas winding up with more camps and more detainees than any other state.