Art Mercer – Naval Gunner
Born in Frasier, Kentucky in 1921, Art Mercer joined the Navy before World War II started. Instead of becoming a farmer, he wanted to see the world. In November, 1939 he enlisted in Louisville and got his wish.
After completing his basic training in March 1940, Art went aboard the USS Salt Lake City (a cruiser, which serves as an escort ship) stationed at Pearl Harbor as a gunner’s mate. His first cruise was to Australia, a country that had been at war since 1939 and under direct and constant threat from Japanese invasion. With their young men gone and fighting around the world, the Australians made the crews of the first American warships to be there years very welcome.
Offering the Americans meals, rides, and parades, Art was picked for an additional honor. A newspaper photographer picked him and two other sailors and took them to the zoo, taking pictures of them with koalas. The publicity led to an additional invitation to join an Australian of the same last name to his house for dinner with the family.
On December 7, 2011, the USS Salt Lake City was steaming back to Pearl Harbor after dropping some planes off at Wake Island when they heard of the attack ahead. Despite the tragedy and damage done, the USS Salt Lake City entered Pearl Harbor on December 8 as planned, but didn’t stay long. Picking up survivors collected out of the water the day before, the ship entered the harbor, and Art saw the capsized Oklahoma and plenty of bodies floating in the water. They didn’t stay long – only long enough to load up on provisions and ammunition – before they went back out on the 9th of December.
A personal friend Art’s had the misfortune of being on the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, and was blown overboard. Picked up by the USS Nevada, he didn’t get very far when the Nevada was knocked out of commission. Put on the carrier USS Lexington, he took part in the Battle at Midway in !942, when the Lexington was sunk. Transferred to the USS Yorktown, he found himself yet again on another sinking ship. Finally, the Navy gave him shore duty. It couldn’t afford to keep losing ships that way!
In April, 1942 the Salt Lake City was part of the task force that supported the daring Doolittle bombing raid on Tokyo. That summer, they went on to Wellington, New Zealand, where they picked up Marines and brought them to Guadalcanal for the invasion and subsequent battle there. While there, the Salt Lake City took part in the First Battle of Savo Island, where three US cruisers were sunk. The concussion of the 8” guns was so strong that Art remembers taking light bulbs out before combat, and wrapping his pant legs, lest the force rip the bottoms of his pants.
In October, they engaged the Japanese fleet at night at only 1,000 yards, and took them by surprise. While sinking some Japanese ships, the Salt Lake City lost seven men.
In November of 1942 Art was sent back to the U.S. where he was assigned to a brand new submarine chaser. Home to 24 men and three officers, made of wood and 110 feet long, it crossed the Atlantic on its own power in early 1943. Making all ports in North Africa, it joined the fleet engaging in the invasion at Salerno. In a 14-day period, the sub chaser successfully survived 29 separate raids by the German Luftwaffe
On duty in the Mediterranean until Dec 1943, Art returned to the States on a Liberty Ship, landing in Baltimore on Christmas Eve 1943, where dinner consisted of Vienna sausage and pumpkin pie. After a short leave, Art attended electrical-hydraulic school in Washington D.C. so he could work more modern and sophisticated guns before he was transferred to the USS Pasadena – a modern light cruiser. The brand-new Pasadena had fifteen 6” guns, and was commissioned in January, 1944. Sent to the Pacific through the Panama canal, they found their way to the Philippines where they took part in the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot in June of 1944.
Christmas of 1944 found the Pasadena rolling in the monstrous typhoon off the Phillipines. Recreating on deck, Art and his friends had to hold on to their cards when the shipped rolled to 40 degrees lest they lose them. They never worried about rolling over, but several other ships in the fleet were not as lucky. Three destroyers went down in the storm with nearly all hands.
In 1945 Art went aboard the new USS Oregon City in Quincy, Massachusetts, where he stayed for three years before becoming an instructor at the Naval Training Station in San Diego. In 1950 Art was with the task force that took Marines to land at Inchon in Korea.
Art got married in 1945, and had two children before he retired from the Navy in 1959. He remained in San Diego, where he went to work for the city for 25 years, before retiring again 25 years ago.