Eighteen crew members of the minesweeper USS Quail, after being ordered on May 6, 1942 to scuttle their ship to prevent her from capture, journeyed in this 36-foot Navy motor launch from the island of Corregidor, Philippines more than 2,000 miles to safety in Australia.
By Joe Gschwendtner; photos courtesy of Tim Deal
Tim Deal of Castle Rock and his brother Mike (Sacramento, CA) are military history buffs. Mike is a Vietnam veteran and Tim served under and over the waves: four years as submariner, then switching to the Coast Guard after college and retiring as a commander. Tim and his brother are alter egos, two of nine children from the marriage of a Navy corpsman and sonar technician. Much of their recent personal time and resources were spent unearthing an amazing World War II story of uncommon valor. “South from Corregidor,” by Lieutenant Commander John Morrill, is their first offering - a 1943 book about a heroic dash for freedom that they republished last month.
“Two years ago Mike and I were inspired by a Tom Hanks TV production, ‘The Pacific’ and then by a book, ‘The Lonely Ships,’ by Edwin P. Hoyt,” said Deal. “The ‘Lonely Ships’ information led us to another book, ‘South from Corregidor,’ a survivor’s account of a daring escape by a boat crew from the minesweeper USS Quail in the Philippines.”
The book, penned by the Quail’s skipper, was well-written and had stood the test of time.
Illustration from The Saturday Evening Post article published December 1942 and January 1943.
“The original story told in this book, and the story of how my brother and I went about resurrecting this amazing piece of American history, is fascinating from a human interest and military perspective,” said Deal. After being ordered to scuttle their ship on May 6, 1942, eighteen men - knowing surrender would soon be demanded of them - took an ocean gamble on freedom. Against all odds, their harrowing journey in a diesel-powered 36-foot Navy motor launch brought them more than 2,000 miles to Darwin, Australia and safety.
Even before its March 1943 publication, a country desperate for good news on any war front was treated to a series of articles about the escape, beginning in December 1942’s The Saturday Evening Post. One can vividly imagine its impact on our national morale.
The Deal’s July re-publication brings major added value with 39 new maps, 70-year-old illustrations from The Saturday Evening Post, and an addendum. “In the addendum, we included pictures of the boat crew that were not in the original manuscript,” stated Deal.
Original boat crew member and lone living survivor Lyle Bercier (left) shared his story with Deal (right) at his home in Maryland earlier this year. Bercier is pictured second from the left in top “Corregidor to Australia” photo.
The Deals recognized that the end of the original book really shouldn’t be the end for the reader. But closure was not possible at the original date of publication, since the war continued on for another three years.
With the assistance of Morrill’s two daughters, Jill and Pat, and the lone living survivor Lyle Bercier, the Deals introduced summaries of subsequent war service and lives of the entire boat crew. According to Deal, he took painstaking efforts to ensure the accuracy of service records through inquiries to the Naval Military Records Center in St. Louis. As fate played out, only Signalman First Class Phillip Binkley died in the war, a victim of a Japanese torpedo that sank the USS Jarvis.
“During my research of the boat crew, I came across a postcard from the mother of one of the boat crew, Ms. Binkley,” said Deal. “In it, Ms. Binkley is looking for her son, Philip. It is a reminder of the sacrifice of those on the home front during the war.” One other special item that was included in the book is a series of illustrations by Mr. John Gould, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post. The story of the escape was told in a series of articles published by the The Saturday Evening Post (pictured below) in December 1942 and January 1943.
Upon retirement as a rear admiral in 1955, Morrill had accumulated numerous awards, among them the Navy Cross and Silver Star. Never short on energy, he then founded an import/export company and lived a very rich life until his death at age 94 in 1997. In the course of his life, Admiral Morrill was a far-thinking, reflective man. He opined that “maybe after a long time these things will grow dim, almost as if they never happened. But I doubt it.” Mike and Tim Deal proved him correct.
I asked Tim about whether he expected to recover his investment in reproduction and addendum costs. Could Amazon and local stores generate enough sales volume to do the job? His response was not altogether unexpected. “Joe”, he said, “I have already been rewarded, enriched really, with the opportunity to have met and become a very small part of the boat crew story. Meeting with men the likes of Lyle Bercier and getting to know them makes it all worthwhile.”
“South From Corregidor” is available on Amazon.com for $14.