USS HOUSTON CA 30
“The galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”
Robert Lee Dethloff
He was born on May 22, 1922 in Moss Point, Mississippi. He was the son of Captain Frank Albert Dethloff and Lou Agnes Fry Dethloff. He
joined the Navy in June 4, 1940 and was assigned to the USS Houston. He joined the Navy to see the world. After finishing boot camp in Norfolk, VA
he was assigned to the USS Houston.
Robert’s brother, Frank, requested that he be assigned to the Houston so that he could
look out for him. Robert was nickname
Swampy II. He was assigned to the engine
room. On the morning of the day the ship
went down that night in the Sundra
Strait, the crew on the Houston cut holes in the
deck from the engine room to the top deck.
They tied a rope ladder and dropped it through the hole because the
engine room crew knew that would be the only way to escape if the ship was
sunk. Little did they know quickly those
fears would become reality. A young
Robert, as many others, escaped the engine room and survived because of that
rope ladder installed that very day.
Once on deck, Robert jumped from the ship. He and a Marine on board swam together toward
shore. They found a life vest floating
in the water so they took turns wearing it as they swam. They swam about five miles and when they
decided they could not swim any further, when they realized they could stand
up. They made it to shore during the
darkness of night but the Japanese picked them up the next morning. They were now Prisoners of War (POWs) and
would remain prisoners for 42 months and six days. The story of the Houston
and the survivors of the Houston
have documented the criminal acts the Japanese guards committed in mistreating
the prisoners. Robert had malaria 25
times while a POW. Fortunately,
Corpsman, Douglas Griffin, took care of him and saved him from dying. Some of the camps Robert was held while
prisoner include the Bicycle Camp (Java), Chaughi
(Singapore), Camp 5 Kilo (Burma), Camp
18 Kilo, Camp 80 Kilo, Camp 100 Kilo, Camp 105 Kilo, Kanchanaburi
(Thailand), and Saigon. After the POWs were liberated, Robert was sent to Calcutta, India
for medical treatment and to recuperate.
He was sent next to Washington
DC where a Wave helped him call
his mother. He took a bus from Washington DC to Moss Point, Mississippi. No one knew when he was to arrive home so
when he got off the bus he began to walk home when he was spotted by his sister
Dorothy. She ran to greet him. She then drove him home. Upon arriving it did not take long for word
to spread through the town that he was back.
His mother’s house and yard were filled with family and friends.
He was discharged on September 6, 1945.
Submitted by Julie Roy (Her Grandfather)