By JIM BURKE - Staff Writer
“I guess seamen sort of (have) an attachment to their ships. When I heard she sunk, I felt a sort of loss.”
For most, the linking of the aging Argentine cruiser General Belgrana will be remembered as a tragic war loss. But, Retired Cdr. Theodore Hechler, Jr., 65, of Annapolis will remember it as the loss of a friend known to him as the USS Phoenix, nicknamed “The Lucky Phoenix.”
“I guess It’s going to take more than luck to help it this time, Hechler said as he thumbed through memorabilia at his Providence home this morning,”
Hechler's attachment items from a one year voyage aboard the U.S. ship which was the lone vessel still in commission to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.
“We even had an association of those who served aboard her. We were planning to got together this year,” he said,
Launched in 1938, the Phoenix (renamed after being sold to the Argentines In 1951) had received nine battle stars, one for each large–scale enemy confrontation, Hechler explained, The 13,645–ton vessel spent most of World War II as a support cruiser for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s island-hopping from Australia to the Philippines.
It was In 1941 that the then Ensign Hechler, a recent Naval Academy graduate, was assigned to the Phoenix. “I was sound asleep when I heard all the commotion,” he recalls of the Dec. 7, 1941 assault on Pearl Harbor, “Then I heard these sirens and gunfire and I knew, it wasn’t just a drill.”
Hechler, who was an antiaircraft officer, ran on deck to find enemy planes flying overhead, but by passing the Phoenix.
“Normally, we were moored with several other ships about 1,000 yards away from Battleship Row (the brunt of the Japanese attack),” he said, “We were all by ourselves this time, I guess that's what saved us,”
Finally, the Phoenix got underway and headed into the open seas to safety,
In 1942, Hechler left the ship and began flight–training school, The ship was retired from active service in 1946.
Hechler retired from the Navy in 1960 and went to work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
“I don't think the loss of the ship will stop us (The USS Phoenix Association) from meeting. We all still remember what she did for us,” he said.
“We had all heard that she was in pretty rough shape, When I heard that she was hit with a second torpedo, I sort of knew that she had to go down,” he added.