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|05-21-03: 'They were just boys' when their ship went
down in World War II
|By SHELLEY GRIESHOP
The Daily Standard
The lives of William Bettinger and Paul Buschur were eerily
At 17, they were classmates at Coldwater High School, farm boys and
teen-agers with an eye for the gals. That's how their families care to remember them.
But just as they mirrored each other in life, they became comrades
forever in death when their Naval ship, the USS Saint Lo, was struck by a kamikaze plane
off the coast of the Philippines on Oct. 25, 1944.
"During high school, they were both concerned about the war,"
said Bettinger's older brother, Paul Bettinger of Coldwater. "They had an intuition
telling them to protect their country's freedom, so they signed up for the Navy and
volunteered their life. They were just 17, they were just boys."
Paul Bettinger, also in the Navy at the time and stationed at a
submarine base in Pearl Harbor, recalled waiting and hoping for his brother's return
shortly after the attack.
"I went down to the receiving area where the survivors were coming
in, and I waited," said Bettinger. "His name wasn't on the list of those
It was two days later when Bettinger found out his younger brother was
never coming home. Their parents, Arthur and Regina, were given the words by telegram,
"We regret to inform you ... ."
Bill Bettinger left behind nine siblings.
"I knew my brother was doing a good thing for his country, but it
left a huge sadness for my parents," he said as his voice softened with emotion.
Carl Buschur was only 11 when his older brother, Paul, left for the
service. His parents, Stephen and Anna, had moved their three sons to Coldwater from Fort
Recovery just a few years earlier.
"I don't remember a lot, but I do remember my parents getting a
telegram notifying them Paul was missing," Buschur said, adding the Navy later
confirmed his brother as KIA (killed in action).
Paul Buschur was a shy boy, his brother said.
"He was an average 17-year-old farm boy, and he liked model
planes," said Carl Buschur, a Coldwater resident and U.S. Army veteran.
William Bettinger and Paul Buschur were born two days apart and were
only juniors in high school when they enlisted. They were in the service for just five
months when they lost their lives aboard the Saint Lo. Survivors later told family members
Buschur was last seen ready to jump ship, then instead headed toward the engine room to
The USS Saint Lo was formerly the USS Midway but the name was changed
just two weeks before the vessel sunk. Saint Lo was the first U.S. ship to be struck by a
Japanese kamikaze plane in World War II.
Two hours before the Saint Lo was attacked, another Mercer Countian was
struggling to survive just miles away. Charlie Heinl of Maria Stein found himself
searching for a lifeboat after his aircraft carrier, the USS Gambier Bay, was struck by
enemy naval fire - "and was sinking fast," he said.
"The ship was listing right away after it was hit," Heinl,
77, said. "I had
to walk the ship uphill to find a lifeboat."
Heinl, a natural swimmer who spent hours at the New Bremen village pool
as a youth, was forced to hang on to the side of a lifeboat or tread water - without the
luxury of a life jacket - for two days and two nights until rescued, he said.
The crew of the Gambier Bay and the Saint Lo (named for a U.S. victory
in France) were all members of Taffy 3, a fleet of six ships assigned to an area near
Samar during the Battle for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.
Fighting was fierce that October and many times the Navy ships were
overpowered as the Japanese stepped outside the bounds of the arms treaty, Heinl said. The
heroism of the Taffy crews helped stop the Japanese Center Force and inflicted great
losses on the enemy.
But they paid a steep price. More than 125 men lost their lives on the
Saint Lo that October day; 138 perished on the Gambier Bay.
Heinl has kept in contact with several hundred survivors of the ships
and helps coordinate annual reunions all over the United States. It was Heinl's close
contact with U.S. Navy officials that helped secure lithograph copies of both ships which
were recently donated to The Pop-A-Top Inn in Coldwater.
The pictures will hang side by side, a fitting tribute to the boys'
"I feel blessed that I'm here, but so sad that the Coldwater boys
weren't so lucky," Heinl said as his eyes filled with tears. "I never knew them
but I know they gave their heart for a cause they believed in. They fought for liberty for
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