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"Memoirs of L.A. (Bud) Myhre, Varian's WWII CO"

I graduated from the University of Washington in 1939. At the same time, I was commissioned as an Ensign in the Naval Reserve by virtue of completing four years of Naval Reserve Officer Training at the NROTC unit at the University. Consequently, I was not surprised to find myself in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska as the Captain of a small freight boat just four months after the United States entered World War II. The weather was very rough, the accommodations on the freighter very marginal, and I found little that related to the four years of book learning that I received in the NROTC program. However, I did learn a lot of practical seamanship and small ship handling. I faced my first major crisis about six months later when our ship collided with and was sunk by an Alaska Steamship freighter, the M. S. Derblay. All ships in the area had been ordered to run without lights of any kind showing, as Japanese submarines were known to be in the area. Radar had not yet been introduced to commercial ships, nor to small Naval vessels such as ours. Our ship sank very rapidly. I was picked up by the ship that hit us after swimming several hundred yards to its location. Four men from our ship lost their lives in the accident; twenty of us survived. A Court of Investigation subsequently found that no member of the Naval service was responsible for the accident and I was soon given command of a slightly larger freight boat operating out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Several months later, I was assigned to the Submarine Chaser Training Center (SCTC) in Miami, Florida for intensified training in the art of detecting and destroying enemy submarines. Upon completing this training, I was assigned as the Commanding Officer of the PC 1251, a 110- foot antisubmarine vessel. We escorted convoys of merchant ships between Cuba and the Island of Trinidad in South America. About a year later, I was again sent to the SCTC for advanced training and, after graduation, was assigned as the Commanding Officer of a new Destroyer Escort, DE798, the USS Varian.

During the first two years of the war, German U-boats were decimating our convoys of merchant ships carrying supplies from America to Europe. During 1942, we had lost 1161 ships to German submarines. That figures out to more than three per day. To meet this crisis, the Navy designed and built about 200 Destroyer Escorts. They were 306 feet long, had a crew of about 200 officers and enlisted men and were equipped to do only one job well. That was to destroy enemy submarines. They carried state-of-the-art echo ranging equipment that could detect submerged submarines, excellent radio direction finders and radar for detecting submarines on the surface, and a large battery of depth charges, each carrying 300 pounds of TNT. It was the DEs that eventually destroyed the German U-boat fleet.

After escorting convoys from New York City to Bizerte, Tunisia, North Africa for most of a year, the USS Varian and three other DEs were formed into a "killer group." We operated whereever enemy submarines were known to be. If a U-boat was sighted by an airplane, if a ship was torpedoed, or if a submarine was located by shore-based radio direction finders, our "killer group" was immediately dispatched to the scene. One of our first assignments was to locate and destroy a U-boat known to be operating in an area about 500 miles north of the Azore Islands in the North Atlantic. This U-boat was reporting weather conditions twice daily to the German high command, and it was on the basis of these reports that Germany launched the famous Battle of the Bulge at a time when no allied aircraft could fly over the battlefield due to poor visibility.

It took us about two weeks to locate the submarine and about three hours to destroy it. This U- boat never did surface, but was destroyed by our depth charges. We recovered clothing, magazines, splinters of wood, and about 20 pounds of human flesh, no piece larger than my fist. After the war, the boat was identified as the U-248.

About three months later, our Naval Intelligence learned that a group of seven U-boats was being dispatched to the East Coast of the United States to destroy coastal freighters that were no longer sailing in convoys. Intelligence also learned that these submarines might be carrying missiles that could be fired at major East Coast cities. Twenty-two DEs and two small aircraft carriers were dispatched to establish a barrier line, north and south, about 100 miles long in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. The DEs were stationed five miles apart and the line was due east of the major United States East Coast cities. Our assignment was to constantly patrol our five-mile sector and prevent any U-boat from getting through. It was during this operation that one of our DEs, the Frederick C. Davis, reported that it was reversing its course to investigate a possible U- boat contact.

Minutes later, the Frederick C. Davis was blown to bits by a torpedo fired by a U- boat. 115 American sailors lost their lives in that attack, ~ 77 survivors were picked up by nearby DEs. We were about 50 miles from the stricken DE at the time of the sinking, but traveled at flank speed to the scene. When we arrived, we were ordered to organize a search line of seven DEs to find the offending submarine. For about ten hours we stalked the U-boat. It was using every trick in the book to elude us. We would get contact on the submarine, drop depth charges that would explode, indicating that they were close to the U-boat but still the submarine could still be detected. Finally, one of our ships got a direct hit on the U-boat with a small missile carrying 33 pounds of TNT and a minute later, the submarine surfaced about 500 yards from our ship. After being on the surface for about two minutes, it sank, bow first, into the ocean. We could see survivors in the water and immediately went to their rescue. Our ship picked up nine survivors. Other DEs picked up twenty-four survivors. Twenty-two went down with the stricken submarine, the U-546.

The next day, we were ordered to collect all of the Germans from the five other DEs that had picked up survivors. We were ordered to take them to Argentia, Newfoundland, where the United States maintained a Naval base. The trip to Argentia was a three-day voyage from the site of the sinking.

Transferring personnel in the middle of a stormy ocean is no easy task. The two ships involved must steam parallel to each other at a speed of ten knots, about fifty feet apart. A breeches buoy, carrying only one person at a time, is manually pulled from one ship to the other on a trolley that travels back and forth on a heavy manila line. The line is secured to one of the ships and held by ten strong sailors on the other ship. As the ships roll, the sailors must keep the line taut, but not allow it to part. It took us a whole day to collect the prisoners from the other DEs. We had only one mishap when the line parted and one of the Germans crashed into the water. Fortunately, we were able to rescue him with only a badly bruised and sprained leg.

On our way to Argentia, I learned that the Captain of the U-boat was among those rescued, and that he could speak a little English. I invited him to my cabin and we introduced ourselves over coffee. He made it clear that he would not discuss anything about his submarine, their mission, nor his war experiences. He was very willing to talk about anything else. His name was Paul Just, and I soon learned that we were within two months of the same age; we were both married; we each had two children ( I subsequently had another son); neither of us had seen our families for many months and we both were very homesick. During the three-day voyage, we became quite good friends and spent several hours each day talking together. He had spent his entire career in the German Navy, first as an aviator, and later as a U-boat officer. He was a strong supporter of Adolf Hitler, and he thought that Germany should rule all of Europe. He asked me such questions as why America involved itself in both World War I and World War II without planning to establish any colonies nor take over any European countries. He asked "did Americans just like to fight?"

We delivered our prisoners to the authorities in Argentia, and after a few days of rest and recreation, were again at sea. Just two weeks later, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies and ordered all of their V-boats at sea to surface, report their position, and proceed to the closest Allied port. We were ordered to intercept the U-805 in mid-Atlantic and escort it to the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We put a fifteen-man boarding party aboard the submarine and for two days escorted it to its destination. Ironically, the U-805 had been very close to the U-546 at the time of its sinking and had heard our depth charges explode. Rather than fight, they decided to just sneak away. In their log it was recorded that they had been close enough to read the numbers on the bow of one of the DEs. It was the number 798, the numbers on the bow of our ship.

In due course, the war came to an end; we sailed to Jacksonville, Florida, where the USS Varian was decommissioned. I was discharged from active service and returned to Seattle, where I resumed my civilian career. The date was November 1945.

In 1983, I made contact with the Captain of the submarine we had sunk almost forty years earlier. The Captain of one of the other DEs involved in the sinking made it a career hobby to try and locate him in Germany. After a lot of research in the Navy's files in Washington, D.C., and with some help from the Dutch Navy, Commander Howard Duff located Captain Paul Just of the U-546 in Germany. They started writing to each other and in Paul Just's first letter, he asked Commander Duff if there was any way he could locate the Captain of the ship that took him and his crew to Argentia. Paul Just did not remember my name nor the name of our ship, but he did remember fondly the good visits we had during the three days we had been together. After considerable searching, Commander Duff located me and I started communication with Paul Just in Germany. In 1987, Paul Just invited my wife, Loretta, and me to visit him and his wife in their home in Bad Krozingen, located on the very southern part of Germany. We spent a week together, sightseeing, enjoying good German food and talking for hours about our mutual war experiences. Paul told me about the horror of being depth-charged while submerged. Most of the submarine's gauges, light bulbs, and dishes were broken during the first depth charge attack. Subsequent attacks opened up large cracks in the submarine's hull and caused electrical wiring and piping to break loose from their bulkheads, thereby spewing electric sparks, water and other debris throughout the whole U-boat. When the final attack took place, the hull started to buckle, and it was all the crew could do to get the submarine to the surface so at least some of the crew could abandon ship.

Since our first visit, Paul Just and his wife, Isa, have visited us in the USA several times and we have enjoyed a close friendship with them. Paul Just also made contact with several of the Frederick C. Davis survivors and attended one of their survivors'reunions. On the Memorial Day weekend in 1990, forty-five years after we all had met on that fateful day in the mid-Atlantic, the Frederick C. Davis survivors' organization held their annual reunion in Janesville, Wisconsin. Everyone who had participated in the battle that resulted in the sinking of the Frederick C. Davis and the U-546 were invited to attend. Representatives of many of the DEs involved were in attendance, and Paul Just and ten survivors of the U-546 came from Germany, most of them with their wives. It was a very emotional weekend. Many of the Germans could still not speak English, but through interpreters they thanked us for picking them out of the water after their submarine sank and they also thanked the crew of the USS Varian for the kind treatment we had extended to them during the three-day trip into Argentia.

On Memorial Day of 1990, the annual Memorial Day parade in Janesville, WI was held. Led by the local high school band, veterans from all of the armed services marched in the parade. One of the largest contingents was the survivors of the Frederick C. Davis, carrying the American flag and paying tribute to those of their shipmates who had died in the sinking of their ship forty- five years earlier. Following immediately behind were the German sailors, carrying a German flag and paying tribute to their shipmates who had lost their lives in the sinking of the U-546.

Paul and Isa Just have visited the United States several times since the reunion. They usually stay with a survivor of the Frederick C. Davis, who lives near San Diego, California. We have visited them there every year except for the last two, when they have been unable to leave their home in Germany due to health problems.

Paul is no longer an ardent Nazi. He has learned to love America and Americans and realizes the terrible debacle brought on by the Germans in World War II. We still keep in touch with Paul and Isa. On May 4, 1994, Loretta and I talked with both of them by phone in Germany. They doubt that their health will ever permit another trip to America, but they both urged us to come and visit them just one more time. Only time will tell...

L. A. Bud Myhre

Arthur Huntley's memo -- 11 October 2002. This photo {#1} was taken at a special dinner sponsored by Captain Bud Myhre on Saturday, Sept 14th (for 12 of us) while we were up in Seattle for the Aircraft Carrier USS Bogue {CVE 9} Reunion. The dinner was attended by the following: Lt. Cmdr. L. A. "Bud" & Loretta Myhre; Emil & Sharon {Myhre's daughter} Mihelich; Michael {son of Gaylord} & Carole Chew; Arthur Huntley; Sue {widow of Barney} Barr; Robertson R. "Bud" Short; Mike Merriman; Karl {son of Howard, skipper of the USS Flaherty DE 135} & Gretchen Duff.

Mike Chew was able to obtain the "battle lantern" while the USS Varian (DE 798) was being scrapped. He presented it to Captain Myhre of the Varian at this special event. Mike Merriman brought a beautiful book report that he had written concerning the USS Varian and presented it to our beloved Captain Myhre.

All of us were deeply shocked to learn of Mike Merriman's passing of a massive heart attack on Sept 27th. He was dearly loved by so many !!

Photo #1 {left to right} Arthur Huntley, Mike Chew, Robertson R. "Bud" Short & Mike Merriman (all of them holding the lantern).
Photo#2 {left to right} Mike Merriman, Mike Chew, L. A. "Bud" Myhre & Arthur Huntley

From: Emil Mihelich
Sent: Tuesday, August 15, 2006 10:10 AM
Subject: Bud Myhre, Varian skipper

Dear Bob,
I thought I should tell you, so that you could inform anyone else interested, that my father-in-law -- L. A. "Bud" Myhre, skipper of the USS Varian, died this past June 8 from respiratory complications. He was 90 years old, and for the last five years of his life he was afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. He had no short term memory to speak of and he had forgotten many details of his past life as well, but he always could remember the Varian, the sinking of U-546 and, years later, his subsequent friendship with its captain, Paul Just. Also, he could talk about bits and pieces of the Bogue reunion four years ago in Seattle. He was in the fairly early stages of Alzheimer's then, and I remember kidding him, after the dinner he hosted for Varian and Davis survivors and kin, that he would be the guest speaker at the Bogue banquet the following night. My jest turned out to be true, and somehow he rose to the occasion. I still smile when I think of that event and how the old skipper handled himself. He died peacefully in his sleep, and I count the Varian battle lantern among my sacred objects. Take care of yourself and your fellow "Bogue's Rogues." And thank you, once again, for the respect and hospitality you showed toward Bud, and all of us, four years ago.


Emil Mihelich

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