The Story of

Dan Callaghan





Francis X. Murphy
















Quis cladem illius noctis, quis funera fando explicet, aut possit lacrimis aequare labores?

—Aeneid, II.


TO THE MEN OF GUADALCANAL, crouching on the beach in mortal fear of the momentarily expected Tokyo Express, shortly after midnight, Friday, November 13, 1942, the action that suddenly developed at sea resembled "A door of hell, opening and closing, opening and closing, over and over." For in the all but total darkness, there emerged sudden, brief, blinding flashes from big guns; momentary, mammoth stabs of illumination that immediately flared and faded; fantastic patterns of star and tracer shells; the whole accentuated with huge, orange–colored explosions as of a ship instantly disintegrating. Savo Sound re–echoed to the thunder and roar of cannonading, and to the peculiar whine of stray projectiles, mingling with the chaotic confusion.


Then, in the sudden glow of that strangely diffused action, vague traces could be discerned of ships spitting fire and thunder, and wallowing in their recoils. In the ordinarily lake–like harbor of "Iron Bottom Bay," huge waves were thrown back against the rock–ribbed sands. The very beaches seemed to quiver and tingle under the impact of a titanic struggle being waged offshore. And from the heart of many a battle-scarred marine, who a few hours earlier had demanded with an oath, "Where the h——'s the United States Navy?" there now stole forth a prayer for mercy and for victory. For this night, at last, the United States Navy was there; incredibly, invincibly there.


To the man standing on the flag bridge of the San Francisco that same moment, in the midst of the gigantic struggle, there was one thought uppermost in mind: WE WANT THE BIG ONES! For as his mighty cruiser plowed through the churning sea, salt–spray pouring past him, mingled with the smoke and powder of belching eight–inch guns, the Admiral peered ahead into the terrifying darkness, hopelessly trying to distinguish friend from foe, futilely endeavoring to delineate his own cruisers and destroyers amid the baffling confusion, and, withal, determined upon directing the withering fire of his task force upon the mightiest of the embattled Japanese warships round about him.


It was an impossible task. A United States battle line of five cruisers and eight destroyers, under command of Rear Admiral Daniel Judson Callaghan, had suddenly run smack into a bombarding expedition of Japanese battleships and destroyers, spread out like the spokes of a fan. In the midst of the ensuing melee, the American admiral's care had been to keep his ships in line, headed straight for the strong units of the enemy's force. But suddenly a salvo from an opposing Japanese battleship landed squarely on the American flagship's bridge. It killed Dan Callaghan, Cassin Young, David Wintle, seaman Owen Russell. It mortally wounded a number of other intrepid officers and men. And it sanctified in the annals of United States Naval glories the story of Dan Callaghan.


In that action at sea, despite Dan Callaghan's own heroic death and that of a large number of his associate officers and men, despite the great loss of United States ships and personnel, despite subsequent discussions and critiques, the Tokyo Express was effectively halted; the first large-scale United States offensive was buttressed and saved; and the United States Navy found itself over the hurdle that led to the second and offensive phase of the war at sea in the Pacific.


It was no mere accident of fate that had placed Dan Callaghan on the bridge of the San Francisco that perilous night. His whole career as a student and officer of the United States Navy had prepared him for, and led up to, that moment. Like the movement of a great, classic drama, it was all but inevitable that at that hazardous moment, a man of the intrepidity and character of Dan Callaghan should have been guiding the destinies of practically the only effective naval force possessed by the United States in that area. In the mysterious arrangements of Providence, the drastic nature of the situation seemed to have demanded the sacrifice of a great hero. To the great good fortune of the American people, they had such a figure in Daniel Judson Callaghan—fearless, intrepid, untainted, an officer loved and esteemed equally by everyone with whom he had ever come into close contact, from his commander in chief in the White House to the callowest youngster in the bowels of his battlewagon, terrified, but confident in the mastery of "Admiral Dan."


This is not to imply that things might not have been otherwise—that in the inscrutable movements of destiny some other man or some other moment might not have presented a mightier victory to the Marines then hopefully waiting on Guadalcanal, and to the nation, prayerfully struggling to acquit itself of a momentous task. But it is an attempt to recognize the fact that Providence does seem to capitalize from time to time upon a set of circumstances that emphasize the intrinsic drama of a single human life. The career of Dan Callaghan is an instance of just such an event.


This book owes its inception and its being for the most part to the men of the United States Navy. To Bart W. Hogan (Captain, MC, USN) in particular is due its inauguration. To Vice Admiral Ross T. McIntire, (MC) USN, (ret.), to Vice Admiral William M. Callaghan, and to Admiral Louis N. Denfeld, (ret.), is due credit for continuous encouragement and interest in its completion. To a whole host of Dan's shipmates, colleagues and friends, the author is grateful. In particular, a sincere tribute is due to Dan's father, Mr. Charles William Callaghan, since deceased at the ripe age of 81, for his immediate and unfailing assistance; Commander Bruce McCandless, USN, for various documents and recollections, Rear Admiral William N. Thomas, (ChC) USN, (ret.), fot indispensable aid in obtaining much valuable information Commander Rowlin E. Westholm, USN, Miss Marie McAleer, and the Misses Helene and Estelle Philibert of the Navy Department for the same; the Right Reverend Monsignor Peter Guilday (R.I.P.) for his patience and care in going over the manuscript; and my own immediate superiors for permission and assistance in pursuing the work to a successful conclusion.


Immaculate Conception Restory

The Bronx. 2 March, 1951




















The Boy from San Francisco


Urbs antiqua ruit . . . Plurima perque vias

sternuntur inertia passim corpora . . .

Aeneid, II.


PERCHED UPON ITS VERDANT HILLS, Iooking out over the Golden Gate, San Francisco in 1890 was still in the midst of its growing pains. Its spacious harbor was cluttered with merchant ships and men-of-war from the seven seas. Its streets echoed to the chatter of newspaper urchins, to the excited clatter of its grain, wool, fruit and lumber magnates climbing the ladder of success. At night, the din and the eerie darkness of Chinatown and the tavern-loaded waterside contrasted oddly with the stateliness of the Praesidium and the quiet of the upper reaches of the town. It was a city strangely assorted. In an atmosphere of feverish trading and sharp business deals, of wanton pleasure-seeking and scandal-tinged politics, the local schools, the civic and literary societies, the churches and academies were hammering away for a place in the sunlight, which, despite the frequent fogs that crept in upon the city, came to be one of its most avid boasts. San Francisco was a city of the future. William Randolph Hearst, its blatant young journalist, said so; its Catholic Archbishop, Patrick W. Riordan, had no doubt about it; and prominent politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley kept it uppermost in their shrewd election calculations.


It was here, in an atmosphere of blithe but solid living, that Daniel Judson Callaghan was born. Both his father, Charles William, and his mother, Rose Wheeler, were of pioneer California stock, well educated, civic minded, Roman Catholic, and fairly well-to-do. They belonged to the social set of the more stable, better-circumstanced citizens of the town. Their interests enmeshed in the thriving business enterprises centered in the local mills and banks. They were part and parcel of the social gatherings that grew out of the alumni and alumnae of St. Ignatius College, and of St. Rose's Academy for girls, and found themselves on fairly intimate terms with the city's affable and energetic Archbishop Riordan. a


Ethnically, the Callaghans were Corkonians from ‘way back, who somewhere in transit between Dunmanway and the City of London, or between Skibbereen and Fall River, Massachusetts, had deleted the "O" from the family cognomen. Daniel Callaghan, Senior, after whom the future admiral was named, had left his native hearth in the hard times of the 1840s, and debarked from a famous Black Ball line American packet in the city of Boston, in the New World, on July 2, 1845. He had immediately secured employment with the Globe Milling Company in Fall River. There, while proving of inestimable value to the vigorous young pastor of the Church of St. John the Baptist—a Father Edward Murphy—he also managed to win prizes in mathematical contests held by the Boston Pilot, and to fall in love with Jane McCombe, the daughter of a block printer but recently emigrated from Manchester, England.


With the death of his mother and sister, shortly after their arrival in America, Daniel Callaghan, Senior, headed west, as much in search of a brother named Jeremiah as to take advantage of whatever fortune the aftermath of the gold rush of '49 might have in store for him. Late in 1852, Dan found Jerry behind the counter of a general merchandising store, which that canny Irishman had opened in Shasta, California, servicing the miners with everything from food and equipment to banking their gold. Dan bought a half interest in the store, which was thereafter operated jointly by the Callaghan brothers, netting them a considerable fortune.


In the early part of 1855, Dan Callaghan, Senior, felt himself sufficiently enfranchised and matured—he was thirty-four years old—to make a hurried trip back to Fall River. He married Jane McCombe there on the 18th of July, and whisked her off across the continent to Shasta. By 1859, the Callaghan brothers were worth about $60,000. They dissolved their partnership, and Dan moved down to San Francisco, where amid other enterprises he helped establish the First National (Gold) Bank of California (now Croker's), and took an active interest in the development of the town's transportation system, serving as first president of the Omnibus Railroad Company.


Living in a quickly expanding frontier town, with its gauche, fly-by-night atmosphere, its industrious, hard-working, but just as hard-drinking, hard-fighting, continually shifting population, disturbed not at all the calm solidity and determined uprightness of this solid Irishman. He was one of the city's bedrock citizens, piqued no little by the fluff of cheap and roisterous entertainment that was pointed out as characteristic of this mecca of the West; impatient though not completely intolerant of the loud, oftentimes gaudy concomitants of too much ready coin among never-do-wells. He himself traveled a different world. His interests were concentrated in the whirling enterprises of finance and business incident to a swiftly expanding frontier. His hobbies and cultural avocations revolved round the recently founded college of St. Ignatius, opened by the Jesuit Fathers at Jesse and Market Streets, on a location where the Emporium now stands. He was among the first citizens to construct one of the large, overstuffed, stone mansions in town that were the augury of the settling down prospects of a city newly weaned.


On the first of January, 1866, there arrived in the family a young son, who was promptly baptized in the nearby Mission Dolores and called Charles William Callaghan. The hurly-burly of the San Francisco of this period was not allowed to affect the boyhood of young Charles one whit. His earliest memories went back to the large family mansion on Howard and 14th streets, and to a few months of schooling with the Irish Christian Brothers, whom he did not particularly like. His real education began in 1877, when he was enrolled with the Jesuits at St. Ignatius. He graduated from their college in 1885, with a Bachelor of Science degree. (Years later, he confessed that he had actually spent an extra semester working up credits for an Arts degree, but that he had got huffy over a sudden change in the date for the examination in Greek, and just did not bother to show up for it!)


For a while there was question of Charles' entering the University of California, which had opened in 1868. But instead, the young man went to work as a clerk in the First National Gold Bank of California, of which his father was then president. He likewise began the courtship of Rose, the daughter of Judson Wheeler, a friend of his father's, and one of the founders of the famous Paragon Mining Company, of Placer County, California. All his life, Charles William Callaghan retained the greatest respect for the Italian Jesuit Fathers who had taught him at St. Ignatius. Though he did not take their final Greek examination, he proved a credit to their tutorial system, making his way in the world while remaining a keen if amateur historian and philosopher, down through the years.


It was to this young couple, Charles W. Callaghan and Rose Wheeler, married the previous September by Archbishop Riordan himself in the Church of St. John, that a young son, Daniel Judson, was born on the 26th of July, 1890. Young Dan's birth and christening were accompanied by the greatest of festivities. His two grandfathers were prominent, solid citizens of San Francisco. His uncle, P. J. Callaghan, and his maternal aunt, Grace Wheeler, who served as the boy's sponsors at baptism, were likewise among the city's prominent figures. His father was an enterprising young man who had the reputation of a gay blade among St. Ignatius grads. He played the cornet, and made a rather dashing figure at fashionable affairs, as well as behind the counter in his father's bank. Pursuant to his parents business interests in Guatemala, he had made a trip there in the late fall of 1888, incidentally carrying into the country papers and documents for Archbishop Casanova, who had been exiled from his See, as the result of one of that Central American republic's not infrequent anticlerical squabbles. One result of Charles William's experiences below the border was an almost complete intolerance of anticlerical-minded Latins, an attitude that was to be strengthened by the difficulties which confronted his young son Dan, and the United States Navy, in that general area during the years 1912-1914.


Into the make-up of young Dan Callaghan there thus entered a number of elements which, though they would not completely explain the man, gave a clue to much of the magnanimity, the courage, and the gentleness that was in him. He was of an enterprising, pioneer stock, particularly on his maternal side. His grandfather, Judson Wheeler, was a large man, physically and mentally, who had originated in upper New York State, and had rounded the Horn in '49. On the Callaghan side, the family was of the type which solidifies rather than founds great enterprises. In its religious alignment, securely anchored and satisfied, the family would produce nothing startling or unique. Daniel Callaghan, Senior, had set the pace with a solid knowledge and love for his faith. His offspring were brought up in an atmosphere close to the Jesuit teachers of St. Ignatius College—hence quietly pious, sane, reliable. The Callaghans were Catholics, good and solid —always had been, always would be—who saw the Church as an eminently sensible approach to the Kingdom of God, and would tolerate no other.


On the patriotic level, a similar attitude prevailed. Amid the early skirmishings for political power and influence that characterized the rather wild growth of the town of San Francisco and the state of California, both Judson Wheeler and Dan Callaghan, Senior, found themselves of one mind in staying severely clear of the intrigues, rivalries and questionable dealings of the local politicians. On the other hand, they had quickly joined the forces making for law and order, helped organize the better of the vigilante committees, and always took a keen pride in the history and the statehood of their adopted land. Judson Wheeler had no use for Democrats of any description, and very positive views on the reasons for the Confederate failure, especially the fiasco at Vicksburg. Dan Callaghan, Senior, was less vehement about his party alignments. But both men handed down to their children the general impression that politics, while necessary, was bad business, and should be avoided as much as possible by Wheeler-Callaghan stock.


Young Dan got his schooling at St. Elizabeth's in Oakland, under the tutelage of the Dominican nuns. He made a good record there both in his studies and his conduct. He was a rather large hulk of a boy who got along well with the nuns both because of the serious twist of his behavior, and because the Callaghans were continually doing favors for the sisters. He was in and out of the scrapes usual for a boy of his age and size, with an Irish face and an Irish temper. Called to task one day by Sister Benedicta, his earliest instructress, for having called one of his schoolmates a "good-for-nothing, lousy bum," Dan promptly apologized to the boy involved: "I was told to ask your pardon, you good-for-nothing, lousy bum. Now I quit." He took the chastisement that followed from the nun with a stubborn docility.


Living fairly close to the Church, he functioned as an altar boy, regularly struggling to make his way to the sanctuary with some good Franciscan friar at five-fifty in the morning, his eyes more closed than open. He had some difficulty in memorizing the Latin responses, but both his father and mother, who had shown proficiency in that tongue, stepped in.


The bay area agreed with the young Callaghans. So did their frequent camping trips into the nearby mountains. The father had a wagon and team which he used to haul his whole family up to Yosemite Valley. It was good, healthy living. The boys in particular took to it as cubs to a scout pack. Dan, as the oldest, was usually in charge, whether hoisting the flag, gathering fire wood, delivering mail, or exploring sundry rustlings in the middle of the night. He was head and shoulders in size, strength and courage over his two younger brothers, Bill and Chad, and as a consequence was looked up to as pacemaker and guide.


Upon graduating from St. Elizabeth's in 1903, Dan entered the College of St. Ignatius as a freshman in high school. He made the long journey by train from Oakland to San Francisco every morning, leaving home about six o'clock and not returning until supper time. This left him little leisure around the house or on the streets of Oakland. It likewise accentuated the rather serious turn to his character, for his father made it plain to him that the rowdyism and carryingson of some of his fellow commuters would simply not be tolerated in his case. When not gazing dreamingly out over the vast expanse of flats and bay that separated Oakland from San Francisco, Dan used the time riding to and fro for plugging down the poetry to be memorized for English classes—long skeins of Keats and Tennyson, whole cantos from Longfellow and Scott—or figuring out the all but impossible ways Caesar or Cicero had of constructing sentences for his Latin classes. He was a trifle slow is picking up mathematics and science. But on the whole he was a capable student, whose secondary training stood him in good stead all his life, enabling him to express himself clearly in correct, everyday English in the innumerable reports he was to write for the Navy department, or in the short, rousing pep talks he would have to give in later life aboard destroyer and battle cruiser.


At St. Ignatius, Dan made the class that graduated from college in 1911, and included Everett Carreras, John Casey, Adrian V. Buckley, Joseph Giannini, and Charles P. Knights, all prominent San Franciscans. They were a strong, healthy-minded group of boys, the sons of locally successful business men, who were greatly influenced by their Jesuit mentors. Classwork was tough, purposely geared for discipline as well as mind training. Under it, Dan had the appearance of being a bit overserious. But actually, in the company of his own crowd, he was jolly enough.


On the Ignatian ball team which, though a secondary affair took on the junior varsities of the University of California, Santa Clara, and Stanford colleges, Dan soon won himself a right fielder's berth. He was also prominent in the "Gas League" punchball circuit, and, especially after making up his mind about going to Annapolis, he was a constant devotee of the gymnasium, taking considerable pride in thorough physical workouts—a habit that became almost a fault throughout his life.


Yet, for the most part, Dan at high school concentrated on books. On the Jesuit roster was a none too gentle line-up of Latin, Greek, mathematics, English, history and languages. The classes were organized on a Roman legion plan, with two of the boys selected as centurions—a finely conceived atmosphere for struggling with Caesar's "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres," as well as Cicero's resounding orations. Discipline was rigid, and it was a rare individual who escaped the gruff, bushy-browed Father Wood's disciplinary castigations. The Jesuit educator acted upon the theory that it was part of maturity for a young man to be able to take a dressing-down without flinching. He admitted of no exceptions, inexorably applying his behavioristic slide rule at the slightest provocation.


Striding into Father John P. Madden's Cicero class, on a fine, spring morning, Father Woods found Dan Callaghan up, reciting. Father Woods took over the book from the sligh IIY startled mentor, and popped a question at the strapping youngster in a purposely unintelligible mumble. Dan did not catch it, of course, and stood nervously waiting. To have asked for a repetition of the question would have been an admission of lack of attention. After a moment or two, the Jesuit repeated the question as indistinctly as before. Dan could only guess at what was wanted, and guessed wrong. Hence his answer was wrong. His mounting nervousness then prevented him from answering anything right. The result was a severe going-over for not having studied his lessons, much to the amazement of his classmates. But Dan took it well. After the first phase of indignation at the injustice of the procedure, he comforted himself with the reflection that such "lacings" were good for the soul, though terribly hard on one's sensibilities. He developed a certain respect for the craftiness of the old man's disciplinary technique, and felt that much of his cantankerousness was assumed—which it was. The experience stood him in good stead in a similar situation under court-martial later on, as well as in tight spots as Naval aide to the President of the United States.


Dan was drafted into the junior Philostorian Society at the school, and turned out to be a better than average speaker. He had a tall, well-built appearance, which gave to his slowly uttered phrases a dignity and sureness which in turn bolstered his self-confidence. He was soon taking part in minor skits and dialogues, earning a reputation for being a reliable "parts" man.


Many of the problems of the modern teen-ager seem to have passed over Dan Callaghan somewhat lightly—both because of the ideals set before him by the religious and social circumstances in which he found himself, and because of the kind of person he was. All his life he would be of a sensitive type of mind, unapproachable when it came to joking, or speaking irreverently about matters of sex, highly idealistic in his dealings with women. In the religious conferences to which he was subjected during these years, he was told that purity was a great value, the violation of which was a serious infraction of the laws of God. He was given to understand that sex was something sacred, the use of which was reserved for cooperating with the Creator in bringing new life into the world. He was told plainly that there was a remedy for awakening urges of one's passions in hard work, hard play and prayer, and above all in keeping one's mind and conversation free of trafficking in the seamier manifestations of life. A straightforward, serious sort of person, Dan believed such admonitions and put them into practice. He thus grew up sound of soul and body.


The highlight of Dan's career at St. Ignatius, as of every San Franciscan of his generation, came on the morning of April 18, 1906. For at five-sixteen to the minute, that morning, the Callaghans were rudely awakened from a sound slumber. Dan and his brother Bill were out of bed in a bound. Their father, Charles William, stirred, sat halfway up in bed, and suddenly realized that San Francisco was in the midst of a violent earthquake. He immediately settled back in bed. Aroused by his wife and family, he calmly informed them that if it was a question of being killed by the quake, he figured his bed was as sensible a place to die in as any. Besides that, he told them, he had been to confession and communion the previous Sunday, and presumed that he was still in the state of grace. With that, he calmly turned over and tried to fall asleep.


By this time young Dan was into his clothes and out an the street. He discovered the town in turmoil. Houses stood agape, windows and doors smashed, and chimneys toppled over. People in every sort of disarray were hurrying into the streets, alarmed, shouting and screaming in the confusion. Dan turned and shooed his young brother Bill back into the house, then rushed into the nearby neighborhood to discover the extent of the damage. There he found neighbors to comfort, children to quiet, friends to arouse.


Hurrying back to his own house, Dan quickly had his father up and alarmed. People were saying that a tidal wave would wash in from the bay, drowning Oakland in a new deluge. There was great terror of fire. That was what had aroused "C.W." He sent Dan out into the street once more, warning people not to make fires in their homes. He organized a sort of vigilante committee to quiet the neighborhood, then set his own family to unpacking camping equipment kept in the woodshed. He ordered families out of their houses into the streets and vacant lots. Dan, of course, was constantly at his side, calmly and efficiently carrying out commands, giving aid and comfort to the dazed and the injured. He was sent scurrying to the school and convent where he found the nuns all aflutter but unharmed. He came running back home to help his mother with his young brother Chad and his sister Rosemarie.


When things had somewhat quieted, Charles William held a council of war. He decided he had better cross the Bay of San Francisco and discover what had become of his family and property in the city itself. Dan begged to go along. But his father put him in charge of the home-front, then hustled down to catch the last ferry for Frisco that day. Upon his return, he had tales of horror to unfold of the limitless damage done to the fair, queen city of the Far West, and of the fires that were already threatening to enfold the metropolitan area. His own office building, O'Neill Bros. and Callaghan, on Sansone and Clay streets, not far from Chinatown, was a shambles from which he had been barely able to salvage insurance papers and bonds. But fortunately his own mother and all their loved ones were in safety.


In the conflagration that followed the quake, the church, academy and college of St. Ignatius perished. But the energetic Jesuit fathers were not long in salvaging their educational efforts. Word passed, even to the outlying districts of Oakland, that classes would be resumed in an old mansion that had survived, out on the dunes at Hayes and Stanion streets. Dan was one of the first boys to come trudging in. It was difficult, of course, to knuckle down to Ovid and Virgil, or the pons asinorum in mathematics, when there was so much wreckage to explore, and so many tales of adventure, horror, heroism and despair to be talked over with his youthful companions.


But the dynamic sons of St. Ignatius soon had their charges close to the classical grindstone, insisting that the whole story had been better reported nineteen hundred years previously by the poet Virgil, in his second book of the Aeneid on the fall of Troy, when that great hero Aeneas had responded to the query of Queen Dido of Carthage with his undying: Infandum regina jubes renovare dolorem. ("You command me, O Queen, to recall an untellable tragedy.") "Great fire or no great fire," they announced, "no one would survive the June examinations unless he supplied for the month's loss in scholarly training." Dan Callaghan passed that year with honors.