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“Crossing the Line” in the Pacific War

By Michael D Rhodes, Reference Archivist, Histories & Archives

While commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, we reflect on the life of Harry H. Keith, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in 1923, who commanded several ships over his Navy career. As a member of the staff of General MacArthur, he escaped Corregidor in 1942. Over two years later, he commanded the USS Osage (LSV 3). For the complete history, please read the DANF available on the NHHC here.

“Neptune, Queen,  + Baby.  I posted an armed guard over the Queen  –  we had been at sea a long time.”

According to this official ship history, the Osage was “commissioned alongside Outfitting Dock No.2, Tampa (Fla.) Shipbuilding Co., on December 30, 1944, Capt. Harry H. Keith in command. Following shakedown out of Galveston, Texas, Osage embarked 703 officers and men of Casual Draft 2610 of the 126th Naval Construction Battalion and loaded 29 amphibian trucks (DUKW) at New Orleans. Transiting the Panama Canal on February 8, 1945, she continued on to Pearl Harbor for further amphibious training, conducted off Maui. On March 17 she sailed with vehicles and various units of the 10th Army units embarked, in company with attack transport Lauderdale (APA 179) and the submarine chasers PC 492 and PC 594. At Ulithi she joined Task Force 51 and continued on to Okinawa, arriving on April 11. Despite repeated enemy air attacks, during which she frequently interrupted unloading operations to go to general quarters, laying smoke each night and opening fire as necessary to drive off Japanese planes when in range, Osage completed offloading within five days and on the 16th sailed for Saipan for provisioning, proceeding in company with Montauk (LSV 6). Moving thence to Peleliu, in the Palaus, she reached that place on April 28, 1945. She stood out the following day for Guam, Marianas Islands, and steamed unaccompanied, loaded with tank landing vehicles (LVT) of the 726th Amphibious Tractor Battalion, and marines of the 4th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, USMC.”

“Sentenced to try the Baby’s bottle.”

“Reaching her destination on May 1, Osage unloaded trucks and disembarked troops, and after fueling and provisioning sailed from Apra Harbor to return to Saipan, arriving on May 4, where she launched the remaining vehicles via her stern ramp, and began a period of post-voyage repairs to her main and auxiliary engines. For a little over a month, Osage awaited orders at Saipan, painting ship and conducting inspections and training, after which time she received orders to proceed to Noumea, New Caledonia. Sailing on June 6, the ship crossed the equator on June 10 at approximately 164º0′ E, observing the event with appropriate ceremonies, during which time some 400 “pollywogs” received initiation into the realm of King Neptune.” 

“The Royal Barbers do their stuff.”

The following photographs, demonstrating Crossing the Line ceremonies, each contain captions on the back (presumably written by Keith). The photographs are part of a manuscript collection composed almost entirely of correspondence; the Harry H. Keith Personal Paper Collection (1921-1957). Unfortunately, there are no dates or other information in the captions on the back of the shots to confirm whether or not this is the same ceremony depicted in Keith’s photographs.

“The Barbers, the dunking chair, + the pool.”
“The operating table.”
“Neptune and his court.”
 “Sentenced to see if the Royal Baby needs a change  –  the mustard doesn’t show in the picture.”
“Neptune, Queen +  Royal Baby”

What is certain, is his Legion of Merit citation, which reads as follows: 

“For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. PEARY in action against Japanese forces in the Philippine Islands Area on 10 December 1941. Although wounded when the PEARY, undergoing repairs at the Cavite Naval Shipyard, sustained a direct bomb but during a high-altitude attack by three formations of enemy bombers, Captain (then Lieutenant Commander) Keith retained active command of his vessel and supervised the removal of the many other casualties to the dispensary. In addition, he organized bucket brigades and succeeded in bringing the fires under control. Later, when the wooden pier to which the PEARY was moored began to burn, and explosions from a near-by ship threatened his own vessel, Captain Keith rejected arrangements for abandoning ship and ordered the mooring lines cast off which allowed his craft to drift clear of the pier where it was towed out of danger by another vessel. By his outstanding leadership, cool courage and inspiring devotion to duty throughout, Captain Keith upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Related Information:

Crossing the Line: https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/heritage/customs-and-traditions0/crossing-line.html