Book Excerpts

Book Excerpt: Frank Olga Slater

This biography is excerpted from the forthcoming book by Julia Brown

Frank Olga Slater was born December 19, 1920, and was one of nine children. He died a war hero on November 12, 1942. His father, James Lafayette Slater, was a sharecropper who tended a farm on “halves”, as was common at that time. His mother was Lenora (Morgan) Slater.

His brothers: James David (J.D.) Slater, Albert Roy Slater, George Thomas Slater, Elam Allen Slater, Charles Slater, Paul (Buddy) Slater.

His sisters: Lucille Walls, Dorothy Jane Wells, Marie Riddle.

A native of Kennamer's Cove, he grew up in Fyffe, Alabama. He was a straight “A” scholar, but never had the opportunity to attend high school. He enlisted in the US Navy on February 10, 1942. After boot camp, Second Class Seaman Slater was sent to Pearl Harbor Receiving Station and he was assigned to the USS San Francisco on April 12, 1942.

On November 12, 1942, Frank Slater was killed when a Japanese aircraft he had shot down crashed into his gun position during the battle at Savo in the Solomon Islands. For his bravery he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross Citation, which read:

“For extraordinary heroism as a gunner aboard the USS San Francisco during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area on November 12 and 13, 1942. Courageously refusing to abandon his gun in the face of an onrushing Japanese torpedo plane, Slater, with cool determination and utter disregard for his own personal safely, kept blazing away until the hostile craft plunged out of the sky in a flaming dive and crashed on his station. His grim perseverance and relentless devotion to duty in the face of certain death were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave up his life in the defense of this country.”

Destroyer escorts were named for naval heroes, particularly those from early in World War II. The USS Frank O. Slater was “laid down” on March 9, 1943 and launched on February 20, 1944. Prior to launching, the Slater family took part in a radio broadcast from Birmingham, Alabama. The account of that occasion appeared in the Birmingham News (specific date unknown) as follows:

“Mr. and Mrs. James L. Slater, of Fyffe, who in the autumn will go to a seaport somewhere to christen a ship to be named after their son Naval hero Frank Slater, were in Birmingham Saturday to take part in a half-hour broadcast over WSGN.

“The broadcast gave a dramatic depiction of the heroism of their son who gave his life aboard the USS San Francisco to bring down the enemy torpedo bomber which was attacking his ship.

“Seaman second class in the battle in the Solomon area, he was manning a machine gun when the attack came. During the attack from 21 torpedo planes, Frank Slater, of Alabama, saw that one of the raiders was circling to aim directly at his quarter of the deck. It came in fast, skipping the waves to insure a hit which would mean the end of the cruiser, but Slater had the plane in his gun sights as it came in. Though he knew that it was aimed straight at him, that the torpedo it would release would break the ship open at his feet, he stayed at his post pouring the bullets into the enemy.

“Mr. and Mrs. Slater were welcomed to Birmingham by Major Cooper Green, Lt. George Hulme, Howard College training unit officer; Lt. C.S. Carroll, Navy recruiting officer; Dr. W.W. Hill, assistant superintendent of Jefferson County schools; Congressman Joe Starnes, Congressman John Newsome, and Yeoman Evelyn Roberts of the Officer Procurement Office. Mr. and Mrs. Slater were accompanied to Birmingham by Editor J.A. Downer of the DeKalb Times, and Judge W.M. Beck.”

The Birmingham Post gave this account of the event (specific date unknown):

“Birmingham today paid tribute to another of America’s thousands of heroes who have died that the world again may be free.

“Frank O. Slater, seaman 2nd class, was one of the thousands of Alabama farm boys who have added luster to their state’s name in their country’s service. The unfaltering courage and devotion to duty of this farm lad, in the face of certain death, is summed up in a single sentence in the wire report of that engagement in the Pacific: ‘Frank Slater stuck to his post.’

“He stuck to the post, pouring lead into a Japanese torpedo plane roaring down on his crippled ship for the kill. He manned his gun until the Nipponese vulture, its torpedo still unexploded, crashed down on the deck of his ship, burying him in the wreckage. And so he died, upholding the best in navy tradition, that his shipmates might live.

“So today his parents and their other children came here from DeKalb County for the proudest event of their lives – the ceremony in honor of their son, awarded the Navy Cross for his valiant deed. And even if sorrow bears heavily upon them, theirs is a pride and a joy that transcends all grief.”

When three men from Slater’s hometown, Ernest Lands, Jesse Whitmire, and Bob Kennamer, furnished cars, 14 members of the James Lafayette Slater family went to Tampa, Florida for the christening and launching ceremonies. Mrs. Nora Morgan Slater had the honor of cracking the bottle for the christening of the vessel named for her son. Private First Class Thomas Slater, who was serving as an MP with the US Army in North Africa, was the only family member who could not attend.

The USS Slater, headed for Key West where she served as a target ship, and a sonar school ship. In the latter part of 1944, the ship escorted two convoys to England. She continued her Atlantic convoy duty from January through May 1945 when she escorted three convoys to Wales. Elam Slater, Frank’s brother, was one of the original crewmen on the ship.

After returning to New York, the Slater headed for the Pacific, stopping at Guantanamo Bay and Panama. She went through the canal on June 28, and stopped at San Diego before sailing to Pearl Harbor. From there, she joined Task Unit 33.2.4 at Manila in September and escorted it to Yokohama. Through the remainder of the year she escorted convoys to Manila, Japan, Biak, N.E.I. and the Caroline Islands. She operated from the Philippines during January, 1946 and then sailed to San Pedro, California.

The USS Slater made another pass through the Panama Canal on her way to Norfolk for inactivation. The Navy placed her in reserve, out of commission, in Green Cove Springs, Florida in May 1947.

On March 1, 1951, the ship was transferred to the Hellenic Navy under the Truman Doctrine. Renamed Actos-01, it served as a Hellenic naval officer training vessel until 1991 when Greece donated the ship to the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association. Members of this group from around the nation had donated $275,000 to bring the ship back to the United States. A Russian tugboat brought the vessel back to New York City from Crete on August 27, 1993, where it was docked next to the Intrepid.

Permanently located in Albany, New York on the Hudson River, today the USS Frank O. Slater is the only destroyer escort ship remaining afloat in the United States. It sailed up the Hudson to New York’s capital, arriving at the Port of Albany on October 26, 1997. On that same date, October 26, 1997, Mayor Jerry Jennings of Albany was presented with Frank Olga Slater’s Navy Cross and Purple Heart. He was asked by the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum to hold them until they could be safely displayed aboard the USS Slater. After undergoing an extensive ten-year restoration, it has been restored to its former glory and World War II configuration. The ship is open to the public from April through November for hour-long guided tours, and for youth group overnight camping. It has also become a popular destination for naval reunion groups. Tour guides, many of them Navy veterans, help visitors gain a sense of how the 216 member crew had functioned. It has also been used in a number of movies, including The Guns of Navarone.

The ship is officially listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places, and on the National Register, with that listing formally presented on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1998.

Frank O. Slater was buried at sea, but his marker stands in Arlington National Cemetery.

Patriotism to him was not just a word in a book. Frank Slater regarded patriotism as an act of unselfish devotion to country. His spirit lives on.

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