Vireo

ABOARD — Cloverdale WWII veteran Dennis Wade Quinliven spent time on the USS Vireo (right). According to military records, Quinliven was lost at sea and the circumstances of his death aren’t documented.  

Beneath the flagpole in front of city hall is a plaque honoring all Cloverdale war veterans who died in service to our country. This bronze plaque and on tiles at the Veterans Memorial Wall at the Cloverdale Cemetery are the same names. Those names and names of others from Cloverdale who served our country are memorialized at the veterans memorial. Memorial Day is set aside to honor those soldiers, sailors and aviators who served but are no longer alive. Over the last few years, I have written stories for Memorial Day to honor those Cloverdale heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. On that bronze plaque under the flagpole in front of city hall is the name of Dennis Wade Quinliven, a U.S. Navy sailor who died in WWII.

Quinliven

Dennis Wade Quinliven

Quinliven was born in Willits, California on Dec. 15, 1923. Dennis or “Denny” as he was called, moved to Cloverdale in 1938 soon after his mother “Bessie” died when he was only 14 years old. Quinliven stayed with his Aunt Josie Simonson and attended Cloverdale High School as part of the Class of ’42. Although he was only 17 years old and had not graduated from high school, he decided to quit school and join the U.S. Navy on March 19, 1941. After Quinliven had completed his basic training, he was assigned to the USS Vireo, a former Lapwing Class Minesweeper that was first launched in 1919 during World War I. The Vireo was later converted and reassigned as a Fleet Tug (AT-144).

I was not able to find any detailed personal information about Quinliven’s service aboard the USS Vireo but was able to follow the actions of his tugboat during WWII.

Quinliven was a crewmember on board the USS Vireo in Pearl Harbor when Japanese Imperial Naval Forces launched the surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941. Many American battleships were targeted, bombed and destroyed or badly damaged during the attack. Quinliven and the other 67 crew members of the USS Vireo helped rescue many injured sailors and they assisted with salvage operations in Pearl Harbor during the aftermath of the devastating attack.

After Pearl Harbor, the tugboat Vireo towed the damaged USS Honolulu back to Pearl Harbor for repairs after the Battle of Kolobangara. The USS Vireo also played a major role during the Battle at Midway. Midway was the first major battle involving the US Navy and naval air forces against the Japanese in the Pacific. During the battle, on June 4, 1942, Japanese aircraft attacked and badly damaged the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). The Yorktown lost all power and was listing to the port (left) side. The USS Vireo took the Yorktown in tow with the destroyer USS Hammann providing power in hopes that the Yorktown could be repaired and placed back in service. On June 6, as they headed back towards Hawaii, a Japanese submarine found and fired a salvo of torpedoes at the Yorktown and the Hammann. During the attack, two torpedoes struck the USS Yorktown and caused even more damage to the already crippled aircraft carrier forcing the remaining crew to abandon ship. The USS Hammann was hit several times and was sunk during the attack. The USS Vireo was there to help rescue and evacuate crewmembers and in the early morning of June 7, the crippled USS Yorktown sank to the bottom of the sea.

The next campaign for Quinliven and the USS Vireo was during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal was a Japanese controlled island in the Solomon Islands. The 2,500 square mile jungle island was in a strategic location for both Japanese and US Forces during the war. On Aug. 7, the U.S. Marines launched a surprise attack on Guadalcanal. During the six-month campaign the Marines took control of an air base that was under construction. This captured airbase was completed by Navy Seabee’s and given the name of Henderson Field. Henderson Field was strategically located and eventually enabled the US Forces to secure air superiority in that section of the Pacific. Guadalcanal became one of the most savagely fought battles of WWII and was the turning point in the Pacific Theater that lead to an eventual victory for the United States. The Japanese suffered one of their most significant losses at Guadalcanal due to the decimation of their elite group of naval aviators.

On Oct. 12, during the Battle of Guadalcanal, the USS Vireo was underway as part of a six-ship convoy, towing two barges carrying barrels of aviation gasoline and 500-pound bombs destined for the Marines on Guadalcanal.

On Oct. 14, Commander Harry E. Hubbard who was on board the escort destroyer USS Meredith, learned that a Japanese carrier task force was in the area. For their safety, Hubbard ordered most of the convoy to turn back except the Vireo and the Meredith. Commander Hubbard decided to continue towards Guadalcanal to deliver the badly needed aviation fuel and bombs to the troops on Guadalcanal.

On the morning of Oct. 15, a Japanese patrol plane spotted the two vessels and the barges loaded with fuel and bombs. Shortly thereafter, Commander Hubbard ordered the Vireo to cut loose the barges and reverse course to escape the imminent attack. Knowing the Vireo was too slow and the tug would be a sitting duck, Hubbard quickly realized the plan would not work. Hubbard then decided to take aboard the 68-man crew of the Vireo and depart the area at high speed. While preparing to sink the Vireo and the cargo barges to keep them out of Japanese hands, the Meredith was suddenly attacked by a force of 38-torpedo planes, bombers and escort fighters from the aircraft carrier Zuikaku. In the first three minutes of the attack, the Meredith was struck by a bomb that exploded beneath her bridge, destroying all communications, steering control and gun direction. A second bomb struck the forward port side, and a torpedo exploded below in the ready ammunition locker and setting fire to fuel oil leaking from her bunkers.

Meredith fought fiercely, and brought down three planes, but she was struck by an estimated 14 bombs and seven torpedoes. Meredith rolled over and sank in 10 minutes. The men who survived the attack floated in the oil-coated ocean for four days. During their ordeal, they were strafed by Japanese planes, suffered from dehydration and the pain of burns and infected wounds. The surviving sailors could do nothing as they saw many of their comrades die of their wounds, drown or get devoured by sharks. Of the crew of 329 sailors from both ships on board the Meredith that day, only 96 survived.

During the attack the abandoned Vireo drifted and remained untouched. One life raft of six survivors from the Meredith managed to get on board the Vireo. The Vireo was spotted by a Navy PBY scout plane on Oct. 21 and the crewmembers were eventually rescued.

The USS Vireo and barges survived the attack with no damage. After the ordeal the Vireo was towed to Guadalcanal and placed back into service with a new crew. The Vireo continued to conduct resupply operations to Guadalcanal, towing barges loaded with precious gasoline and bombs. The USS Vireo remained unscathed throughout the war and was finally scrapped in 1947.

The circumstances involving the death of Quinliven are not documented and his body was never found. Military records show that he was lost at sea on Oct. 15, 1942. Quinliven received the Purple Heart, the World War II Victory Medal, the American Defense Service Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal. Dennis Quinliven’s name is written on a memorial at the Manila American Cemetery marking his service to our country.

Unlike Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day is a time to remember all veterans who have died. We especially remember and honor those who died in battle like Dennis Wade Quinliven and those others from Cloverdale and throughout our country who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Please stop by and take a moment to reflect on that bronze plaque under that flagpole in front of city hall and at the Veteran’s Memorial Wall at the Cloverdale Cemetery. 

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