At approximately 7:48 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, the first of 360 Japanese bombers, fighters and torpedo aircraft struck in a two-wave assault on the U.S. Naval Yard in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise attack killed 2,403 American sailors, soldiers, marines and civilians, and launched the nation into World War II.
At roughly that same hour last Tuesday, Dec. 7, a battle-scarred, starred and striped banner was hoisted aboard USAAF World War II-era Crash Boat P-520, now a living museum, set to be permanently stationed in Cambridge.
David Carrier of East New Market and David Laney of Milford, Pennsylvania, carefully eased the banner onto the pole, briefly raised it, then slowly lowered it to half-mast to mark the solemn moment. The flag had been flown over LST-466 in the Pacific by Carrier’s grandfather - Lt. Harry E. Parker Jr. of Hurlock and East New Market. At the time, Parker had been executive officer of that vessel, but received his own command, LST-279, at war’s end. Laney’s grandfather, Louis Haas, had also served in the Navy during the war.
Looking on was Carrier’s mother, Geraldine Baker Carrier, who had discovered the flag by accident in the attic in June 2015, following a move. The two proudly represented their uncle and brother respectively, Harry T. Parker of Mobile, Alabama, also a Navy veteran, who was unable to attend. Normally serving as standard bearer of the fragile banner at his home, he and his nephew have made it their mission to raise the Parker Veterans Memorial Flag at more than 23 sites, including the USS Arizona, USS Midway, the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Naval Academy, Fort McHenry, the Washington DC Navy Yard, the Pentagon, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the U.S. Capitol.
A group of local citizens, city officials and P-520 volunteer crew members, including Laney, Stephanie Moss and caretaker/consultant/director Ted Yadlowski, braved the early morning’s frosty temperatures to solemnly watch and share a moment of silence for those fallen but never forgotten.
The still-operational wooden craft, constructed in Wilmington, California, in 1944, represents the last one remaining among 140 of the 85-foot vessels commissioned at various shipyards throughout the country. During the war, 14 similar boats were built here at Cambridge Shipbuilding, currently the site of the Yacht Maintenance Company, where P-520 has been docked since arriving last April.
The Louisville Naval Museum arranged to bring the P-520 to the East Coast in hopes of finding a viable home base to provide tours and travel to nearby ports to promote the craft’s history. Once here, cognizant of the city’s historic link to the era, Yadlowsky recommended that Cambridge become the craft’s home base. The idea made sense to the museum and the P-520’s passionate support group.
For those unfamiliar with that history, a visit to the USAAF P-520 website (www.p520.org) provides a “crash” course:
“United States Army Air Force Crash boats (USAAF) were a class of wooden hulled boats ranging in size from 63 feet to 104 feet. Their mission? Find and recover downed airman who had to ditch their plane over the sea. The 85-foot boats were built after crews wanted a boat with greater range than the 63-foot boats offered, and faster than the 104-foot boats could offer thus the 85-foot PT boats were created. Other missions also evolved for P Boats such as supporting the OSS on secret missions and inserting commandos.”
Costing $250,000 to build, once its wartime service ended it was put up for sale for $6,000, purchased as a private yacht during the late 1950s. It’s original V-12 Packard engines requiring aviation fuel were replaced by V-12 Detroit diesels, reducing the P-520’s cruising speed of 30+ knots down to about 15.
In the 1980s, someone else purchased the boat but soon relinquished it to the AAF-USAF Crash Rescue Boat Association, where it found a father and son team, Bud and Jerry Tretter of Long Beach, eager to return the boat to its original glory to keep alive the memory of those who, like Bud, had served aboard a crash boat. He continued the labor of love until his death in 2012 as did Jerry until he, too, passed in 2020, leaving it nearly fully restored.
Louisville Naval Museum President Lewis Palmer contacted Tretter’s widow, Kathy, who agreed to donate the P-520 to continue its educational mission, this time on the East Coast. To repair some of the wear and tear incurred during its journey from California, Palmer brought her to Yacht Maintenance in Cambridge.
Once here, another historical link in the P-520 story appeared, when Yadlowski connected with Cambridge resident Del Kailianu, who was born in Hawaii in 1942. Kailianu had been in the Merchant Marine, making cargo and ammunition runs during the Vietnam War era in the 1960s. He also made tourist runs around the islands and, during one of them, happened to meet a girl from Cambridge named Shirley, who became his wife, and brought him back here to settle.
Having worked in ship engine rooms all his life, Kailianu was the right man in the right place to help get the historic crash boat started.
“Once I got the batteries charged, everything was good,” he said.
For more information, visit www.p520.org or visit USAAF P-520’s Facebook page.