“The galloping Ghost of the Java Coast


Charles LaRoy Spencer



Charles LaRoy Spencer was born November 20, 1920 in Olympia, Thurston Co., Washington to Willard and Allie (Houser) Spencer of Indiana and Texas. Although he grew up during the Depression years, his father owned Spencer’s Auto Parts and Repair Service in Olympia and the family fared well. Charles’ father extended credit to those down on their luck, but eventually the economy caught up with the generosity and in the later 1930’s the family business was lost when the bank called in the loan. Hard times did not mean going hungry though – the family lived on the waterfront where fresh fish, apples and berries were plentiful and all four Spencer children grew tall and healthy.


Charles was about 5’10” tall, fair complexion, with reddish brown hair and blue eyes that “twinkled,” according to his mother. He attended Roosevelt Grade School and later Olympia High School.

Outgoing and always looking for the next opportunity to make someone laugh, he snuck onto the stage at the local theater at a fairly young age and stood directly behind the announcer, mimicking his every movement and gesture, much to the amusement of the audience and the chagrin of the poor, unknowing announcer. His closest friend was his brother, Willard E. “Will” Spencer, who now resides in LaConner, Washington.  The boys were 13 months apart and good friends. Charles’ first “official” job as sign painter called upon his artistic talents, just as his uncle Jim had done in the Wild West days in Jerome, Arizona when the town was known as the Wickedest City in the West, and his grandfather had done when Oklahoma was still a Territory.


In 1937 Charles joined the National Guard in Washington State and enlisted the following year in the U.S.N. He served on at least one other ship before being assigned to the U.S.S. Houston, where his final rank was Seaman 1st Class.  Charles was one of the forward gunners, according to family memory. His brother Will later became a pilot and First Lt. for the USAAF, and his brother Joseph fought in France.


The following poem was written by Charles’ father, Willard E. Spencer, Sr. shortly after being advised of his son’s death/missing status, when very few details about the Houston’s actual demise were known:


                                                    Memorial Day

                            By Willard Ernest Spencer, Sr.


Our flag is dipped to honor

Our noble dead and brave;

Through out the nation, flowers

Are strewn upon their grave.


They fire salutes and beat the drums,

And march with muffled tread;

With faces grim yet saddened hearts,

Above their buddies head.


We too, would honor those who died,

We too, would lay a wreath;

For a sailor lad who gave his life,

And lies the wave beneath.

The graves are strewn with flowers,

Yet none upon his grave;

For we know not where he’s lying,

As he sleeps beneath the wave.


We have his medals, two, or three,

A purple heart beside;

But we know not where they laid him,

And know not where he died.


He sailed aboard the Houston,

Expendable was she;

They sank beneath the waters,

Deep in the Java Sea.


Though deep he lies and far away,

From flower studded land;

We know the Savior holds him,

In the hollow of His hand.


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