USS HOUSTON CA 30
“The galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”
FRANCIS BROOKS WEILER
"Boo-Boo" Fran" "Politician
SEVERAL score miles north of our quaint
Soccer 4, 3 , 2; Crew Manager 4, 3, z; "E" Great Guns; king Committee, Chairman; Pep Committee 2; Stunt Committee; reception Committee; Log Staff; Star 4; 3 Stripes.
The Long Journey Home
Fran Weiler's ring returns to Annapolis
By Jack Weiler Mintzer
During the Battle of the Java Sea, HOUSTON, the flagship of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, was sunk by a large Japanese force as she approached the Sunda Strait. On that fateful day, 1 March 1942,
the crew of
When HOUSTON went down, a badly wounded Fran made it to shore. He was admitted to the hospital in Pandeglang, Java, on 15 March. Knowing that he did not have long to live, he gave his Naval Academy ring to a Dutch nurse in the hope that she could contact a U.S. naval officer and give it to him. She gave it to a Dutch doctor, and he, either willingly, or otherwise, gave it to a Japanese officer. Sadly, Lieutenant Weiler died of his wounds on 26 March 1942. His gravesite is unknown.
In early November 1942, Gordon Gayle '39, then a Marine captain, was involved in a firefight on Guadalcanal. Four Marine stretcher-bearers paused nearby and one of the Marines, knowing that Captain Gayle was an Academy graduate, handed him a ring that had been taken off the hand of a dead Japanese soldier up on the lines. Captain Gayle promptly put the ring in his pocket and did not look at it until there was a break in the action. When he did examine it, he was surprised to see that it belonged to a classmate. He remembered Francis Weiler as being chairman of the class ring committee.
In the eight months since HOUSTON sank, Lieutenant Weiler's ring traveled more than 3,000 miles from Pandeglang, Java, to Guadalcanal. Its journey was not yet over.
Captain Gayle intended to return the ring to Lieutenant Weiler's family, but felt that his chances of survival were marginal, so he decided to send the ring through official channels. He gave the ring to a fellow officer in his command post. This officer, Captain Swisher, from artillery, was about to return to his unit back in Henderson Field. Gayle asked Swisher to give the ring to the division quartermaster, the usual staff agency to return such items to the United States. Captain Swisher never made it back to his unit at Henderson Field. The 164th U.S. Army Infantry Regiment was nearby and desperately needed forward observers, so Swisher's orders were changed. Tragically, he took a direct hit from a mortar and died an hour later.
It is believed that upon learning of his change of orders, Captain Swisher gave the ring to a Private Charles Stimmel, a radio specialist HQ CO, of the 164th. Again tragedy struck. Private Stimmel was mortally wounded by shell fragments on 23 November 1942 and died within the hour. His best friend was with him when he was hit and Stimmel asked the friend to get his personal effects back to his family in North Dakota. Among the personal effects was Lieutenant Weiler's class ring.
Private Stimmel's father wrote to Dr. George Weiler, Francis Weiler's father, on l March 1943, a year to the day that HOUSTON went down, explaining how he came into possession of Fran's ring. The ring was then personally returned to George and Florence Weiler at their home in Germantown, Pennsylvania, by a Marine courier.
Fran's brother, Rear Admiral James B. Weiler '31, USN (Ret.), donated the ring to the Naval Academy Alumni Association in 1961. It is currently on display in the ring collection at Alumni House..,
Photos from the 1939 Lucks' Bag Ring photos by Chris Wright
Jack Weiler Mintzer was a first cousin of brothers, Fran Weiler '39 and Jim Weiler '31. Their visits while on leave made a great impression on Jack as a young boy. Jack and his wife. Pat, did extensive research to ascertain the amazing journey of this class ring. In doing so, they learned a great deal about Fran Weiler from the many contacts and new friends they made during this project.