|Les de RAINVILLE - Mille ans d'histoire|
From «Les de RAINVILLE - Mille ans d'histoire», ©2003 Mona Andrée Rainville.
The USS RENVILLE was first commissioned at the close of World War II, in November 1944, to serve in the United States Navy Pacific Fleet. From her humble beginnings as an amphibious attack transport ship, she and her crew were instantly called upon to play key support roles in the foreign policy of the United States. Early on in her career she became the 1st Marines Northern China division command post, quite literally, following the termination of Marine activities in Tientsin. After Japan surrendered, she carried out transport duties until her assignment to Indonesia, in December 1947, to host the negotiations for Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands. Redeployed during the Korean War she served again in the Pacific in her original capacity of attack troupes transport ship. At the height of the Cold War, in 1958, she was part of the fleet involved in Operation Hardtack's atomic testing in the Marshall Islands. She saw action in the Gulf off the coast of Kuwait, and was part of the American blockade during the Cuban missile crisis. She brought the first contingent of combat marines to land in Vietnam. She even found time to become a movie star between her tours as a training vessel. Her somewhat eventful career ended thirty two years to a day after her initial launch. Sadly, her final destination is unknown.
Rarely has a story been more compelling than that of the USS RENVILLE and her crew. Yet she comes to be mentioned on this web site by reason of her name alone. She was christened after Renville County, Minnesota, and Renville County, North Dakota, both named after Joseph RAINVILLE, a member of my family.
«In Harm's Way». That title pretty much sums up USS RENVILLE's career. But this Pacific Fleet beauty was still Bristol fashion enough, in 1964, to be featured in this Otto Preminger's classic war flick with John Wayne at her helm.
Her first General Quarters call came on the evening of Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, as she and 175 other ships were converging on Okinawa. Japanese kamikaze planes were literally raining from the evening sky, and it is estimated that more than 700 of them flung themselves at the Fleet. To her captain, Cmdr.William W. Ball, this must have seemed like deja-vu, his previous ship having had to limp back to port with three holes in her hull after sustaining Japanese fire. By 5 April 1945, Operation Iceberg was over, Okinawa had been secured, and USS RENVILLE, unscathed, was homeward bound. She had just earned her first Battle Star. Not bad for a 5 month old. She spent the next three months island hopping wherever she was needed. But when, on 6 August 1945, Hiroshima and, three days later Nagasaki, were bombed, the USS RENVILLE was but a few days away, having set a course from San Francisco in July. By the time the Surrender Ceremony got under way in Tokyo Bay, on 2 September 1945, she had already begun repatriating troupes to the US as part of Operation Magic Carpet and had already evacuated a first load of ex-prisoners of war (POW) to Manila, in the Philippines.
Alas, the War-to-end-all-Wars had not brought peace to the region, and destabilizing forces were still very much at work throughout the Pacific.
In September 1945, several Marines Divisions had been deployed in China essentially on a peacekeeping mission, to ensure the safety of the withdrawing forces and assist in the evacuation of Americans and friendly foreign nationals. By 1946, China was in the midst of a full-fledged civil war. As Chinese Nationalist forces were fighting a loosing battle against the rise of Communism, armed clashes between Chiang Kai-Shek's Army and the severely depleted Marines became more common. The number of casualties were rising, mostly among sentries on guard duty at ammunition depots, and avoidance of open conflict was no longer a sustainable objective. Several units had already been reassigned. And as units of the 5th Marines were making their way to Guam, it was decided to shut down all Marine activities at Peiping, Tangku and Chinwangtao, and, on June 21st, 1947, the 1st Marines Division Command Post, previously in Tientsin, was ultimately removed onto the USS RENVILLE. This move, according to historian and author Henry I. Shaw, Jr., «ended 21 months of quasi-war with the Chinese Communists», and left Tsingtao as the only remaining Marine duty station in all of northern China.
Six months later, the USS RENVILLE was ordered to Batavia, in Dutch controlled Java, to serve as Headquarters Ship for the U.N. Truce Commission. From December 1947 to January 1948, she played host to Indonesian nationalists and Dutch military representatives, during the critical negotiations leading to the recognition of Indonesian independence. The resulting treaty has thereafter been known as the "Renville Agreement".
Four years of drastic downsizing by the non-interventionist Administration of President Truman had all but destroyed the military response capacity of the United States in the Pacific. So when North Korea placed itself on the war path, in the spring of 1949, it was all General McArthur and the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff could do to try and convince Truman to continue to provide military assistance to South Korea. It was granted in the form of a 500-man Military Advisory Group.
What remained of the 1st Marines was placed on alert and loaded onto the USS RENVILLE to patrol the Pusan Perimeter.
In January 1950, President Truman drew a line in the sand and called it the "US Defense Line". There was not to be any U.S. military involvement beyond that, and certainly not in China, McArthur be damned. It was about then, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, made his unfortunate Aleutians Speech. By not explicitly including South Korea in his Declaration of the US "defensive perimeter", he unwittingly laid out a welcome mat for North Korea. Five months later, at the crack of dawn of 25 June 1950, Kim Il-Sung's troupes, heavily supported by Soviet made tanks and Chinese rocket launchers, went for a brisk stroll over the 38th parallel, right into South Korea.
McArthur's "I-Told-You-So's" rang in with such force that they could be heard loud and clear despite the din unleashed by wildly scrambling politicians. The recently mothballed Pacific fleet was recalled into active duty so fast that the paperwork never kept up.
At the close of WWII the active US Navy amphibious fleet numbered 2,547 ships. By 30 June 1950, this had dwindled to a sorry 79, seven niner.
Although she is officially listed as having sat idle and without a commission at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, in Vallejo, California, between 1949 to 1953, the USS RENVILLE was in fact landing the 1st Marine Division and the 181st CIC, at Wonsan, North Korea, on 20 October 1950, and might have been involved in Operation Chromite at Inchon, one month prior.
The operation was successful. Despite the clear and present danger which she found herself in - mine countermeasures on Wonsan beach had not been fully deployed prior to her arrival - USS RENVILLE reported no casualty and earned herself two more battle stars.
She remained in North Korea, and participated in the December 1950 evacuation of all UN personnel et equipment from Hungnam to Pusan.
Officially re commissioned, on 5 January 1952, she did what she was best at, troops transport and landing, back and forth between Japan and Korea. After the fall of Dien Bien Phu, in May 1954, she steamed to what was still being called Tourane Bay (now Da Nang), in French Indochina, evacuating refugees out of North Vietnam in a joint French-U.S. massive humanitarian effort known as the «Passage to Freedom».
Stalemated, North Korea and the United States forces finally had to agree to disagree. An Armistice Agreement between South Korea, the People's Republic of China, and the UN, was ratified on 27 July 1953, however neither the United States, nor South Korea ever signed it. And more US military personnel died during the Korean War, than is presently deployed in South Korea.
After the Korean War, USS RENVILLE continued to tour the western Pacific, as a training ship. In September 1954, she was back in California, where she picked up a full complement of spanking new Marines for a quick trip (21 days) to Kobe, Japan.
By March 1958, the Cold War and its nuclear race had brought the USS RENVILLE to the Marshal Islands, where it remained until the end of April during two months of intensive thermonuclear arsenal testing. With only ponchos, goggles, vague guidelines and a sprinkler system to protect themselves, the officers and crew who served aboard her at the time were subjected to massive levels of radiation as nearly one hundred nuclear warheads were purposely detonated above and under their ship. By 1958, then Lieutenant General Roy S. Geiger, whose questions for the future of amphibious operations and the Marine Corps itself these tests were attempting to resolve, was long gone. He had died, on 23 January 1947, less than two years after the first U.S. atomic bomb test program in the Marshall Islands, code-named "Operation Crossroads. Many view these tests as a premeditated, deliberate act by the United States government to expose their military personnel to radiations in order to study the effects of radiations on human beings. Certainly, the government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands is of the same opinion as regard their own nationals. It may be difficult to fathom, by today's standards, why a government would willingly endanger its people in such a callous manner. Yet, at the height of the Cold War it was done, and the men assigned to the USS RENVILLE deemed it their duty: Semper fidelis. Until recently, all documentation concerning these tests was classified, including the medical records and radiation badge readings of the servicemen involved. To this day, applications for service records are routinely denied. No decoration or acknowledgement of their courage was ever awarded to these men. And they, and 16,000 of their companions who served as "atomic tests subjects", are now known collectively as the "Atomic Veterans".
Between 1959 and 1961, coined as the Yard Period, USS RENVILLE was allowed to cool her keel at Portland.
By 1961, she was on her way to Okinawa, with orders to pick up a battalion of the Third Marine Division heading for the Philippines. This time, she did not have to fight her way in. But trouble was brewing in Indochina, and the USS RENVILLE was one of the ships ordered to patrol the area and, well, show her colours.
And then, the Cuban Missile Crisis happened. In October 1962, the USS RENVILLE crossed the Panama canal into the Atlantic, to join the quarantine fleet, where she stood by, in state of readiness, between 8 November 1962 and 5 December 1962. She was back in San Diego in time for Christmas. For this tour of duty, she was awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
Then, she was off to Vietnam. At first, she was asked to stand-by. And that, she did. During the hottest 67 days of 1964. With 1,350 marines on alert status on board she ranged the coast of Vietnam from Da Nang to Saigon and back. After a short stay in Japan to provision, she was at is again in November, until her order to stand down came through. Again, she was home in time for Christmas. But while her official story places her in Camp Pendelton, on exercise, in March 1965, she was in fact back in Vietnam, with the first contingent of combat Marines ever to land in Da Nang. She received four battle stars for her service in Vietnam.
USS RENVILLE was in Pearl Harbor in 1966, en route for a training exercise in Okinawa and the Philippines, and was by then already deemed to be an "swaying old tub" by some of her younger crew. Her glory days were numbered.
Little is known of her assignments after Da Nang, other than she continued to be used as a training vessel until 1968 when she transferred to Maritime Administration for deactivation. Part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet, at Suisan Bay, California until 1973, she was struck from the Naval Register in 1976, disposed of on 19 February 1982 and discretely passed into oblivion for all but those who sailed her.
In researching the material for this article, in 2002, I was struck by the wealth of messages posted on the Web by former USS RENVILLE shipmates. Messages from people trying to reclaim their past by sharing it with us all. Messages reaching out to long lost friends. Messages from family members looking for some sort of validation, any tidbit really, of what their father, brother, husband had gone through during his tour of duty on board. And, most specially, messages from those faithful Marines used as guinea pigs during Operation Hardtack. To all of you: Thank you.
Note from the author: I am both sadened and disappointed to have to post this notice, but I don't know how else to deal with this unpleasant issue. Please DO NOT COPY any content from this website and post it on other websites, forums, or elsewhere. All material on this website is copyright protected to me. This is the condition under which I make it available for you to view. If you wish, you may create a LINK from your website to this website. And please let me know, so I can reciprocate. Thank you.
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